The small Italian towns where Kobe Bryant spent his childhood – and the country as a whole – are paying tribute to the basketball legend in the wake of his shocking death.
The NBA superstar, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other people, lived in Italy for seven formative years, from the ages of six to 13, when his father played basketball in the domestic league. The family’s first stop, in 1984, was the medieval, centrally located town of Rieti; two years later, they moved to Reggio Calabria in the south, followed by Pistoia in Tuscany, before winding up in the small city of Reggio Emilia in the north.
Bryant spoke affectionately of his time in Italy, especially Reggio Emilia, in conversations with the local press. “I have many memories, it’s special,” he told BaskeTime magazine in 2016, according to a Reuters translation. "My story began in this town," he told il Resto del Carlino, per CNN.
And the affection was mutual. The Italian Basketball Federation announced that it would honour Bryant’s passing with a moment of silence at all games this week: "a small gesture to honour Kobe's memory,” federation president Giovanni Petrucci told CNN, “but one that is heartfelt and deserved.”
In Rieti, the team will retire his jersey at its next home game, and in Reggio Emilia, a town square will be named in Bryant’s honour, the AP reports. “Forever one of us,” the latter’s team tweeted when the news broke. "Kobe Bryant grew up here and was, for all of us, a 'Reggiano,'" Reggio Emilia mayor Luca Vecchi wrote on Facebook, according to an NBC News translation.
“You made us dream,” the Riete team tweeted, per Reuters. “We are proud to have been the first to see you take to the court. We will never forget Kobe.”
"I grew up here in Italy,” Bryant said in a radio interview in 2011 – in perfect Italian, according to NBC News. “It's a country that will always be close to my heart. Always."