Bryant died Sunday when a helicopter he was travelling in crashed in thick fog, killing all nine people on board including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
“He grew up in Italy. We are all devastated by pain.
“He had elegance and an infinite class.”
Bryant lived in Italy between the ages of six and 13 while his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professional basketball before he returned to Pennsylvania for high school, and spoke fluent Italian.
It was in Reggio Emilia that Bryant himself said “my story began”.
“It’s where my dream of playing in the NBA started,” he said.
Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996.
“Forever one of us,” local basketball team Pallacanestro Reggiana posted, alongside pictures of Bryant as part of its youth team.
“Kobe Bryant grew up here and he was a ‘Reggiano’ for all of us. He left us today. A basketball legend that our whole city will remember forever with affection and gratitude. Ciao Kobe,” the mayor of Reggio Emilia, Luca Vecchi wrote on Facebook.
Another former team, NPC Rieti, posted a childhood photo of the player, saying: “You made us dream, moved us and made us cry and cheer but above all you made us fall in love.
“We are proud to have been the first to see you tread the basketball courts. We will never forget you Kobe Bryant, an idol of the Rieti, of Italians and of all those who thanks to you, try to fly high.”
Bryant forged strong links with Italy and regularly returned. His four daughters with his wife Vanessa all have Italian names, including Gianna Maria-Onore, a promising basketball player who also died in the crash.
His three other daughters are Natalia Diamante, 16, three-year-old Bianka Bella, and seven-month-old Capri Kobe Bryant.
‘A boy who played here’
A minute’s silence will be observed before all games in Italy to honour Bryant, who Italian Basketball Federation president Giovanni Petrucci said: “has been and will always be linked to Italy”.
“The whole city has been hit by this tragic news because many of my generations, I am his age, played basketball with him, attended school with him, went out with him, met the father who played here,” said Tomasi.