AC Milan and its fans paid tribute to Kobe Bryant with lights and applause before and during Tuesday's Italian Cup game against Torino at the San Siro stadium.
Bryant, who grew up in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13, was a devout Milan fan. The 18-time NBA All-Star with the Los Angeles Lakers died on Sunday, 26 January with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California.
As Milan and Torino warmed up before the game, the words “Legends Never Die” and “SempreKobe” - a play on the “SempreMilan,” or “AlwaysMilan,” hashtag often used by the club - were displayed on the advertising boards around the San Siro while images of Bryant were shown on the giant screen.
Shortly before the teams walked out for the kickoff, the stadium was darkened and the public announcer paid tribute to Bryant while fans applauded and held up phone lights. The song “Who wants to live forever” by Queen was then played.
Both soccer teams also wore black armbands. In the 24th minute, fans around the stadium stood to applaud in tribute to Bryant, who wore No. 24. Fans also displayed a banner which read “Rest in peace Kobe and Gianna forever together.”
AC Milan beat Torino 4-2 after extra time.
Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimović, who spent nearly two years in Los Angeles with MLS side LA Galaxy, did not stop to talk to reporters after the match but when asked by The Associated Press about Bryant, the Swedish forward shook his head sadly and said: “Ooof. Heavy.”
Several supporters wore Lakers jerseys with Bryant's name on the back. Some fans said they’d been in tears when they heard the news.
“I was very emotional even when Kobe retired from the NBA and his death really hit me," said 23-year-old Luca Benazzoli, a student from Brescia. "I didn’t cry but I definitely had tears in my eyes.
“He meant so much to basketball. Especially as the thing that was so appreciated about him was the effort that he put in, the effort that he was never satisfied, that he always aimed higher and gave his best. That was the best thing he gave to sport and to basketball in particular.”Luca Benazzoli, Fan
Another student, Filippo Bellini, is from Reggio Emilia - the city where Bryant lived as a child for part of his seven years in Italy.
“We are from Reggio Emilia. He began playing in our city and he is very linked to our city. I never saw him unfortunately as we were always at the seaside when he was there," the 17-year-old said.
“One thing that really struck me is when he was talking about when he was younger in Reggio Emilia, going out with his friends, going out for an ice cream ... things that we’ve always done there too," he added.
Earlier, Milan tweeted an interview with Bryant when he visited the club’s training facility a few years ago.
“Watching (Ruud) Gullit, (Frank) Rijkaard, (Marco) Van Basten and (Paolo) Maldini was always a dream for me,” Bryant said in Italian, wearing a Milan jersey.
“It’s always been my favorite squad. Back in Los Angeles I have an AC Milan shirt and scarf inside my locker and I see them every day," Kobe added.
Torino tweeted that it would “emotionally” stand by Milan's side during the tribute “in memory of this sports legend.”