MELBOURNE, Australia — Nick Kyrgios wore a Los Angeles Lakers No. 8 jersey to honor Kobe Bryant on Monday ahead of his most important match of the Australian Open against top-ranked Rafael Nadal, paying his respects without needing to say a word.
Fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff had Bryant’s numbers 8 and 24, along with the inscription “Mamba Mentality,” on her shoes in a doubles match at Melbourne Park.
Bryant’s sudden death in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, has shocked and upset fans and athletes around the world.
After his four-set loss to Nadal on the main arena at Melbourne Park, one of the four most important venues in tennis, the 24-year-old Aussie wore one of Bryant’s No. 24 jerseys into his post-match news conference.
“When I woke up to the news, it was pretty emotional. It was pretty heavy, like, all day,” Kyrgios said. “Obviously I was having basketball on at my house, watching the games. I was heavy. Yeah, it’s just tough.”
Kyrgios, a big NBA fan who often wears basketball jerseys while practicing, wore a Bryant jersey from the locker room, through the corridor of champions, and into the warm-up on Rod Laver Arena on Monday. He took it off before play began.
“I never met Kobe. But basketball is practically my life. I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember,” Kyrgios said, adding that he tried to use the tragedy as motivation. “If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight. When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back.”
Fans in the crowd also wore Bryant jerseys with the numbers 8 or 24. Australian Open organizers also played a short video tribute to Bryant ahead of the match, one of the most anticipated encounters in the two-week, season-opening major.
Darren Cahill, who coaches two-time major champion Simona Halep and works as television analyst for ESPN, said he “felt sick” when he woke up to news of Bryant’s death.