A replica of Kobe Bryant’s high school basketball jersey, which was stolen in 2017 from Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion High School, has been returned, according to multiple reports.
Officials reunveiled a framed, autographed version of Bryant's No. 33 jersey before the school's basketball team played Saturday, CNN reported. The game was the first in Kobe Bryant Gymnasium since the NBA star's unexpected death last month, according to the news network.
Some people gathered at the gym cried before Saturday's game, when school officials played a video tribute to Bryant that featured highlights from his high school years and from his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. They also observed a 33-second moment of silence to remember Bryant.
"It's been a difficult time for our school community," Lower Merion Principal Sean Hughes told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Because of Kobe, Lower Merion is known all over the world."
Bryant's high school jersey had been bought in October 2018 by a collector in China who contacted the school before Bryant's death, The Associated Press and ESPN reported. The buyer, 28-year-old Liu Zhe, told ESPN in March 2019 that he paid about $2,000 for the jersey and mailed it back to the school after realizing the resemblance it bore to the stolen jersey.
Police later confirmed it was authentic, according to ESPN.
Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer told The Associated Press that the return of Bryant's jersey to the school was "good timing."
"That was kind of an iconic moment, when the spotlight went on that jersey. It was just tremendous," he said. "It was major irony, almost, how we’ve been waiting for that jersey for a long time. For a long time we didn’t know where it was. To have it back, it’s a fitting ending to a tough week.”
In Lower Merion’s first home game since Kobe’s death, Bryant’s cousin unveiled his HS jersey, which was stolen in 2017 and bought by a collector in China but finally returned on Saturday.— ESPN (@espn) February 2, 2020
Merion ended up winning the game in overtime.
(via aidanfriedman_/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/gFjMBxLOs6
Lower Merion won Saturday's game against Souderton High School 42-37 in overtime, according to the Bleacher Report.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi,” were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash in Southern California on Jan. 26.
Also killed in the crash were Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli; Altobelli’s wife, Keri; Altobelli’s daughter, Alyssa; Harbor Day School assistant basketball coach Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester; Chester’s daughter, Payton; and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan.
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