Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles on Sunday at the age of 41, moved to Italy at the age of six and would remain here until he was 13.
His father, professional basketballer Joe Bryant, moved the family from the United States to play in the Italian league, starting in the central Lazio city of Rieti.
His former team, NPC Rieti, posted a childhood photo of the young Kobe along with the tribute: “You made us dream, feel and above all fall in love. It was in Rieti that you first started to make your little opponents cry. We're proud to have been the first to see you tread the courts. We'll never forget you, Kobe.”
Ci hai fatto sognare, emozionare ma soprattutto innamorare. A Rieti hai cominciato a far piangere i tuoi piccoli primi avversari. Siamo orgogliosi di essere stati i primi a vederti calcare i campi.Non ti dimenticheremo mai Kobe♥️#kobebryant #blackmanba #basket #Rieti #npc #NBA pic.twitter.com/99UsLYQ5hV
— NPC Rieti (@npcrieti) January 26, 2020
Over the next seven years, the Bryants moved to Reggio Calabria in the south of Italy, Pistoia in Tuscany and finally Reggio Emilia in Emilia Romagna, a city that he would describe years later as “a special place” where “I became what I am”.
“Forever one of us,” local basketball team Pallacanestro Reggiana posted after his death, alongside pictures of him as part of its youth team.
Per sempre uno di noi ❤️ ? pic.twitter.com/MaPrV7Jjpf
— Pall. Reggiana (@PallacReggiana) January 26, 2020
Though he returned to the US for high school and made his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe learned Italian during his childhood in Italy and would continue to speak it fluently for the rest of his life, giving interviews in Italian on the frequent occasions when he returned.
While members of the public would greet him with a “Ciao, Kobe! Come va?” when he visited, he appreciated the relative peace he enjoyed in Italy compared to the US, he told Italian sports magazine BaskeTime in 2016.
“It's a different love in Reggio and that's what links me so strongly to this place. It's difficult for those who grew up only in the US to understand. Here I can go and have a gelato, walk around with friends, stop in a piazza,” he said.
Opening a basketball youth academy in Italy “would be a dream”, he told the interviewer.
Bryant's Italian roots were also evident in the names he and his wife Vanessa Laine Bryant chose for their four daughters: Gianna Maria-Onore, Natalia Diamante, Bianka Bella and Capri.
Gianna, known as Gigi, died alongside her father. She was 13.
“I grew up in Italy,” Kobe Bryant told Italian station Radio Deejay in 2011. “It will always be a place close to my heart, always.”
From the tributes paid to him today by Italian sports fans, it's clear that Italy returned his affection.
Lo abbiamo visto giocare al PalaCarrara durante gli intervalli delle partite di papà Joe.
Aveva un legame forte con la città di Pistoia e proprio qualche anno fa venne a farci visita.
— Pistoia Basket 2000 (@PistoiaBasket) January 26, 2020
Italian basketball players will observe a minute's silence before each game this week in Bryant's honour, the country's basketball federation FIP announced on Monday.