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January 27, 2020 4:38 pm

Israeli Basketball Fans Pay Tribute to Late NBA Legend Kobe Bryant at Maccabi Tel Aviv Game

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Mourners gather in Microsoft Square near the Staples Center to pay respects to Kobe Bryant after a helicopter crash killed the retired basketball star, in Los Angeles, California, Jan. 26, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Kyle Grillot.

Israeli basketball fans chanted Kobe Bryant’s name during a Maccabi Tel Aviv home game on Sunday night following the news that the NBA legend had died hours earlier in a helicopter crash in southern California.

While the jumbotron featured a photo of the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers player, the announcer at Menora Mivtachim Arena called Bryant’s passing a tragedy and asked the crowd to stand in his honor.

Fans rose to their feet, as they applauded and chanted repeatedly in unison “Kobe Bryant.”

Former New York Knicks star Amare Stoudemire, who made his debut on Sunday as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s newest player, broke into tears when he learned of Bryant’s death.

“I don’t know what to say, man,” Stoudemire, 37, told a reporter. “I’m shocked, bro. I don’t know what to say. I have no idea what to even think. I don’t know. Feels unreal. I don’t even want to believe it. It’s like a dagger to my heart right now.”

Stoudemire played against Bryant numerous times during his 15-year NBA career.

Stoudemire, who said he was close to Bryant’s family, praised the late athlete in a post-game interview in the locker room, stating, “This is a big loss for myself and my family. My family’s crying right now. On the phone they called me, everyone was crying. It’s definitely a hurtful feeling.”

Ex-NBA player Omri Casspi — also now a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv — said of Bryant’s death,”It’s an unparalleled tragedy, I have no words to describe what I feel right now.”

He added, “Kobe was one of the greatest athletes in the world, a recognizable figure. He symbolized all the beauty sports has to offer, the hard work and the desire to win pushed him beyond all limits…He was an exceptional winner. To think about his wife in this unimaginable situation, what a disaster.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that Bryant was “one of the greatest basketball players in history,” and called his death “a sad day for all sports fans in the world.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz tweeted in a message referring to Bryant, “Thank you for the long years of out-of-this-world basketball. Basketball fans, with I among them, will never forget you.”

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