Immediately after winning his 24th Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open on Sunday night, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic honored the memory of late NBA legend Kobe Bryant by donning a shirt featuring a picture of him and Bryant, with the words “Mamba Forever.” On the back in purple was the No. 24, one of two numbers Bryant wore during his Hall of Fame career.
“I thought, 24 is the jersey he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and world basketball,” Djokovic said. “So I thought it could be a nice, symbolic thing to acknowledge him.”
Novak hits 24 and pays tribute to the late Kobe Bryant 💙 pic.twitter.com/rDXVUvYe1Z
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 10, 2023
Djokovic was friends with Bryant, whose death — along with that of his daughter, Gianna — in a 2020 helicopter crash shook the sports world. The former Lakers superstar is often venerated by current greats of various sports, with Djokovic continuing that tradition after his latest triumph.
“Kobe was a close friend,” Djokovic said. “We chatted a lot about the winner’s mentality when I was struggling with the injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game. He was one of the people that I rely on the most. He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in a most friendly way.
Novak shares the idea behind his tribute to Kobe 🗣 pic.twitter.com/aFd7xStqVx
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2023
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, congratulated Djokovic with an Instagram post, saying that “Real recognize Real” with the hashtag MambaMentality.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.