Kobe Bryant's stolen sweater returned for the high school ceremony

ARDMORE: Kobe Bryant The high school t-shirt spent more time in China lately than hanging on the wall of the gym named in honor of the top scorer of the school's career.

Bryant's retired 33rd jersey was stolen in 2017 from the Lower Merion High School campus and was finally bought by a collector in China. Suspecting that the shirt was stolen, the Kobe collector contacted the school and helped return the memory to the suburbs of Philadelphia, a process that was already underway before Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash.

The uniform returned on Saturday to where it belonged, released by Bryant's cousin, his former high school coach and a former teammate at Bryant Gymnasium.

Good time, said Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer. That was an iconic moment when the focus was on that shirt. It was simply tremendous. It was a great irony, almost, how we have been waiting for that shirt for a long time. We didn't do it for a long time. Know where I was To recover it, it is an appropriate end to a difficult week.

Outside of Los Angeles, no place was as connected with Bryant as Lower Merion. At a tribute Friday night in LA, the entire Lakers line-up was introduced the same way: From Lower Merion High School, No. 8, Kobe Bryant. '' Golfer Justin Thomas He was wearing a Bryant No. 33 LM shirt in a tournament. The Sixers had the 33 logo on the court this week at their first home since Bryant was killed.

While the NBA teams spent the following days celebrating observances for Bryant, Lower Merion finally played his first home game and celebrated the biggest star he ever played for the Aces. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other dead were remembered in the pregame ceremony.

Because of Kobe, Lower Merion High School is known worldwide, principal Sean Hughes told the crowd. Despite his international fame, Kobe remained very close to our hearts. He returned here to meet his loved ones (English teachers) and, of course, Coach Downer. He helped make this gym the wonderful facility. He was a great defender, not only of our basketball teams, but of all Aces Nation.

The gym was packed to at least 1,600 capacity, and the students - some asking this week at school for $ 40 for the $ 3 ticket - wore black T-shirts that said The Heartbeat of Aces Nation with a 33 inside a ace. Sixers coach Brett brown His son plays in the team, with connections far removed from the A-listers who filled the Staples Center a night before in an emotional ceremony. In Lower Merion, a former student sang the national anthem. A teacher revealed a portrait she had painted of Bryant. School administrators gave speeches.

Once the ball overturned, everything went on as usual, without the 24-second shot clock and the eight-second backcourt violations that the NBA teams have been making to greet the two numbers of professional uniform of Bryant Lower Merion kept 33 seconds of silence, and former teammates (and Bryant's cousin, John Cox) gathered in a sad circle in the middle of the court.

Somehow, the Aces' 42-37 overtime victory over Souderton seemed as normal as Bryant's presence in the gym. It's just a name between Carly Brown and Mike Venafra in a banner with the scorers of 1,000 career points of the Aces. A picture of Bryant holding the 1996 AAAA Class state championship trophy was on the wall, mixing with dozens of other great players and teams in the program's history.

There was even some lightness during the highlights of his career as a video when Bryant was remembering his days in high school, saying the first year I got there, we were like 4 and 40 or something. We were terrible.

Cirilo Perez He drove almost 2 hours from Heightsville, Maryland, to pay his respects to Bryant at the monument in front of the gym. He didn't have a ticket for the game, he just wanted to be part of the day dedicated to his favorite player. Perez wore a Bryant shirt and left his Lakers hat on the scene, which was full of basketballs, cards and posters of Bryant fans near and far.

He got to work and brought that blue-collar mentality that many people connect with, not only here, but all over the world, PĂ©rez said. He found a way to connect.

Carter Knight, assistant coach at Souderton, gathered the Indians for a photo of the team on the site.

It's real right now, Knight said. We've been talking about the 'Mamba Mindset' since the beginning of the season, so it's crazy that we're here today. We've been insisting on that all season, that mental toughness and what Kobe brought and what he represents.

His former counselor attended the game, remembering how Bryant's Toyota Land Cruiser was parked in the teachers' parking lot long before the school day began.

His smile was the best I remember Frank Hartwell said. It was just an inspiration to many, it wasn't just him. He was here before school every day working on his skills. Not only was he shooting here, he was working on his movements.

Hartwell said Bryant even talked to him while considering his biggest move - making the jump to the NBA directly from Lower Merion.

I gave him the pros and cons, but I said: 'It's up to you.' I think he made the right decision, Hartwell said.

Bryant made the right decision, starting with a Mamba mentality that seized Lower Merion long before it became a marketing phrase.

It was a quest for excellence as I had never seen before, Downer said.