Djokovic celebrates No. 24 with a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who wore that number and became a friend
By BRIAN MAHONEY
NEW YORK (AP) Novak Djokovic couldn't think about No. 24 without thinking of Kobe Bryant.
So after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday night for a historic 24th Grand Slam title, Djokovic put on a blue T-shirt that honored the Los Angeles Lakers great.
The shirt read "Mamba Forever” on the front, along with pictures of Bryant and Djokovic. On the back in purple was the No. 24, one of two numbers Bryant wore during his Hall of Fame career.
Djokovic said he came up with the idea about a week ago as a way to honor his friend. He said he received advice on his own career from Bryant, who died in 2020 in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
“Kobe was a close friend, we chatted a lot about the winner's mentality when I was struggling with injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game,” Djokovic said. “He was one of the people that I relied on the most."
“He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in the most friendly way,” Djokovic continued. "So of course what happened a few years ago and him and his daughter passing hurt me deeply, and I thought 24 is the jersey he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and world basketball, so I thought it could be a nice, symbolic thing to acknowledge him for all the things he’s done.”
Bryant's widow, Vanessa, congratulated Djokovic with an Instagram post, saying that “Real recognize Real” with the hashtag MambaMentality.
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis
Updated September 10, 2023