NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s untimely death has had reverberations around the world, where fans from Italy to the Philippines have united in expressing their grief and honoring the late basketball player, who was one of the most global-facing athletes the league has ever produced.
The coronavirus sweeping China momentarily relinquished its grasp on the nation as fans grappled with the news, while in Italy, where Bryant spent his formative years, national mourning will continue across the entire week. Bryant’s death dealt a crushing blow to supporters in the Philippines and also resonated in France, with major sports stars paying tribute.
Read on for Variety’s dispatches from across the globe.
Bryant’s passing was met with an outpouring of grief in China, where he is one of the most beloved American sports figures. The news even prompted a rare tribute from China’s official Communist Party mouthpiece.
“He was a part of countless young people’s lives from elementary school through to college, and sparked many young Chinese people’s love of basketball,” wrote the People’s Daily newspaper, which praised his work ethic, recalling a popular story in China of how he attributed his success to his dedication to waking up for 4 a.m. workouts. “That fighting spirit that knows no fear of wind or rain is something worth remembering, whether in basketball or life.”
The hashtag “4AM forever” has since gone viral, garnering 160 million views. At 4 a.m. local time Tuesday, fans took to Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, to post farewell tributes. “Time to wake up and practice hoops, boss. Please wake up!” read one of many.
Within hours of his death, the topic became the top trending search item on Weibo, more than doubling the number of searches about confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus sweeping the country. The hashtag “Kobe has passed” had been viewed 4.2 billion times as of early Tuesday morning local time and received nearly two million comments.
Bryant’s verified Weibo account has 9.5 million followers, more than half his global tally of 15 million on Twitter. His top pinned post — one of his last, put up on Friday, the eve of the Chinese new year — wished his “dear friends in China” a happy holiday and “happiness, health and inner magic to achieve more success in the upcoming year of the mouse.” It then went on to promote his sports-themed books, put out through his Granity Studios.
“It’s so sudden. Can this really be your last post? Stop playing around and come back to send us another Weibo,” one fan posted in response to the video, which has been liked over a million times. Another wrote of how he couldn’t sleep for mourning, saying: “I wish I could go fall back asleep and wake up to the news that you’ve brought your daughter safely home.”
Bryant’s popularity was unassailed despite recent trouble for the NBA in China after the league locked horns with Beijing over a single tweet that expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests from the Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey in October. Fallout from that one missive led Chinese sponsors to flee the league in droves, and for the league’s official partner CCTV to stop broadcasting certain matches.
Bryant stayed out of the scandal, although Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James waded in, with the former speaking in favor of Morey’s right to free speech and the latter criticizing him.
Taipei and Beijing may be at loggerheads, but there was cross-straits consensus on Byrant’s popularity. Taiwan’s newly re-elected president Tsai Ing-wen also paid tribute in a tweet, writing that “Kobe inspired a generation of young Taiwanese basketball players, & his legacy will live on through those who loved him.”
In the Philippines, where a basketball hall named in Bryant’s honor was set to open in Valenzuela City, north of capital Manila, just hours before his death, there was simply disbelief.
Congressman Eric Martinez, the politician who drove the construction of The House of Kobe, said: “I can’t understand it. Just 12 hours’ gap from ribbon cutting and hearing the news. Everyone has been fighting back tears today. This is a basketball-loving nation.”
Bryant reportedly visited the Philippines, where basketball is immensely popular under the NBA-styled Philippine Basketball Association, seven times over the course of his career.
Boxing star Manny Pacquiao, who is also a senator in the country, shared a photo of himself shaking hands with Bryant with the caption, “The world lost a legend today, but the impact and legacy he leaves behind will last forever! #RIPMamba.”
In South Asia, cricket is the most popular sport by some distance and cricketers from the region contributed to the wave of encomiums pouring in for Bryant.
In an Instagram post, Indian men’s cricket team captain Virat Kohli wrote: “Absolutely devastated to hear this news today. So many childhood memories of waking up early and watching this magician doing things on the court that I would be mesmerized by. Life is so unpredictable and fickle. His daughter Gianna passed away too in the crash. I am absolutely Heartbroken. Rest in peace. Strength and condolences to the family.”
Sachin Tendulkar, India’s most popular cricketer of all time, posted on Twitter: “Saddened to hear about the tragic demise of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna & others on-board the helicopter. My condolences to his family, friends and fans across the world. #KobeBryant”.
Other Indian cricketers paying homage to Bryant included Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, K.L. Rahul, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. Dimuth Karunaratne, captain of Sri Lanka’s men’s cricket team, Paras Khadka and Shakib Al Hasan, former captains of Nepal and Bangladesh respectively, also posted condolences on social media.
Shireen Limaye, the youngest player to have played basketball for India, posted on Instagram: “Thank you for changing the definition of Basketball! #gonetoosoonbutneverforgotten #legendsneverdie”.
Meanwhile, Divya Singh, coach and former captain of the Indian women’s basketball team tweeted: “What a tragic news early in the morning. @kobebryant You showed us human excellence. Your contribution will be remembered forever. Om Shanti! #BlackMamba #KobeByrant #KobeRIP.”
Bollywood actors who paid homage to Bryant include Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Sidharth Malhotra, Shraddha Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar and Lara Dutta Bhupati. Pakistani actors mourning Bryant’s passing included Mahira Khan, Bilal Ashraf, Feroze Khan, Mehwish Hayat and Shaan Shahid.
ITALY & FRANCE
In Italy, where Bryant lived between the ages of 6 and 13 during which time his father Joe Bryant played basketball for several local teams, the country will be in national mourning all week.
The Italian basketball federation ordered a minute’s silence to be observed for all matchups “in every category” this week in honor of the late Los Angeles Lakers great.
Bryant, who was fluent in Italian, was very close to the country where he grew up. He nearly joined Italy’s Virtus Bologna team in 2011 during an NBA lockout, though in the end the deal fell apart.
Kobe spent time in Italy that year. Italian TV writer and director Luca Rea posted a video on Facebook showing Kobe on a basketball court in Rome’s outskirts, kidding around with some Italian friends and challenging them to take a shot from center court. He then put the ball “effortlessly in the hoop,” recounted Read, who was there to shoot a Nike commercial with Bryant.
Pistoia, one of the teams that Joe Bryant played for, tweeted a message with a picture of Kobe Bryant during a recent trip to the Tuscan town.
Over in France, Bryant’s death also received extensive coverage in the press, alongside tributes from high-profile sports figures, including soccer world champions Zinedine Zidane and Kylian Mbappé.
Zidane said during a press conference on Monday that Bryant’s passing was “terrible news for the world of sports.”
“I’m deeply sorry for his family. I have no words. I never met him. I’m very sad about what happened,” Zidane told journalists.
Meanwhile, Mbappé, a star player for the French team which won the FIFA World Cup in 2019, posted a monochrome image of him and Bryant on Instagram with the note “RIP Legend.”
In the U.K., where basketball is largely overshadowed by the immense popularity of football, Bryant’s death still managed to grab national headlines across both tabloids and national newspapers. However, it was the public broadcaster’s muddled response to the news that ultimately became the main talking point.
The BBC was forced to apologize after footage of LeBron James surpassing Bryant’s career points tally – devoid of crucial voiceover for context – was used in a reel commemorating the late athlete on Sunday night, drawing a wave of international criticism.
Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Ten, issued an apology almost immediately via Twitter on Sunday, calling the gaffe a “human error” that “fell below our usual standards on the programme.”
Elsewhere, senior sports figures shared their condolences online, with Liverpool football player Mo Salah extending “heartfelt condolences” to the “families and friends of Kobe,” while former football great and sports presenter Gary Lineker called Bryant “one of the greatest sportsmen of our lifetime.”