Novak Djokovic couldn’t think about No 24 without thinking of Kobe Bryant.
So after winning the US Open on Sunday night, the 36-year-old put on a blue T-shirt that honoured the Los Angeles Lakers legend.
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 honour 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, trying to make my comeback, and 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,” he added.
“So of course what happened a few years ago with him and his daughter passing hurt me deeply, and 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.’