Friends, fans, sporting giants and political leaders around the globe reacted swiftly to the shocking death of Kobe Bryant with a tearful cascade of condolences and tributes.
In Paris, international soccer hero Neymar paid tribute after scoring a goal in a match Sunday, flashing 2 and 4 with his fingers — Bryant’s Lakers jersey number.
In Mexico, soccer star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez declared: “I still can’t believe the news. I’m very sorry about what happened. My condolences and best wishes to Kobe’s whole family.”
In Beijing, fans flocked to the NBA store, where Kobe shoes and other memorabilia quickly sold out. Huang Zhongze, 14, was among those who left empty-handed. He said he had been too young to follow Bryant for more than one season but that the Laker legend was his favorite basketball player because of his attitude and excellence. Bryant, he said, was a da ge or big brother, someone to look up to.
A Chinese internet app that sells secondhand shoes offered a special edition of Nike Kobe 4s for the equivalent of a month’s salary and on the social media platform Weibo, there were calls for a boycott of resellers, who were accused of “eating a bun that’s dipped in human blood,” a phrase by writer Lu Xun.
Elsewhere on Weibo, “Kobe dies” shot to the top of trending posts, along with a hashtag #CanWeRestart2020?
Many users combined posts mourning Bryant’s death with grief about the growing Wuhan coronavirus epidemic.
The hashtag #Eternal4a.m. also went viral, reflecting the time when news of the death became known in China as well as Bryant’s onetime answer to a reporter about the secret of his success:
“Have you ever seen Los Angeles at 4 a.m.?”
“I’ve never seen Los Angeles at 4 a.m., but I heard the news of your death at 4 a.m.,” thousands of fans posted, many adding stories of staying up all night crying.
The tragedy even resulted in Israel’s leading political antagonists agreeing on something Sunday.
“He’ll never be forgotten,” tweeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “He was one of the greatest basketball players of all time,” tweeted opposition leader Benny Gantz.
Nowhere, however, was the grief more heartfelt and personal than in the small town of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, where Bryant spent a pivotal portion of his childhood.
“Kobe Bryant grew up here and was, for all of us, a ‘Reggiano,’” wrote the town’s mayor, Luca Vecchi, on Facebook. “Today he left us — a basketball legend that the whole town will remember forever with affection and respect.”
“Ciao Kobe,” he added.
When Bryant was 6, his father, Joe, retired after a lengthy career in the NBA and moved his family to Italy, where he played for five seasons in the central region of Lazio, the southern region of Calabria, in Tuscany and finally for two seasons at Reggio Emilia, a small town in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna.
There, Kobe began his climb to greatness, playing on the youth team of Pallacanestro Reggiana — the team his father played for.
On Sunday the team published photos of Kobe Bryant with the simple message, “Always one of us.”
During a return visit to Reggio Emilia in 2016, where he gave fluent interviews in the Italian language he learned as a youth, Bryant told local newspaper Il Resto del Carlino, “My story started in this city,” adding, “Would you believe that one of the best players in the NBA could grow up here? There is nowhere further from Los Angeles.”
“It means every dream is possible.” He added, “I have so many special memories. Here I could go around on a bicycle, go and eat an ice cream with my friends.”
Stefano Bonaccini, leader of the Emilia-Romagna region, wrote Sunday on Facebook: “Kobe Bryant has gone and we spare a thought for a great champion and a great person, who had a connection with our region just as our region had a connection to him.”
Special correspondent Kington reported from Rome and Times staff writer Chang from Beijing. Staff writers Patrick J. McDonnell in Mexico City, Alice Su in Beijing and Max Lu in Los Angeles and special correspondents Noga Tarnopolsky in Jerusalem and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin also contributed to this report.