Former Youth home in Italy, Reggio Emilia, honors Kobe Bryant with plaza dedication

While Los Angeles and Philadelphia will mourn the one-year anniversary of the death of indigenous son Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna on Tuesday, yet another one of Bryant's hometowns halfway across the globe will be doing exactly the same.

Former Youth home in Italy, Reggio Emilia, honors Kobe Bryant with plaza dedication

"The city of Reggio Emilia and its own citizens adored, initially Joe, and then Kobe Bryant, the child who, after he returned to America, constantly remembered Reggio with love," Emanuele Maccaferri, the former president of the Sport Foundation of Reggio Emilia, told ESPN. "On this sad day we want to remember that happy child who left wonderful memories from so many people of Reggio Emilia."

The distance, located in the historic center of town, will be commemorated with a plaque and a newly planted Ginkgo biloba tree in the Bryants' honor and is a pedestrian thoroughfare commonly used by fans coming and going to the town's basketball stadium.

Come nightfall, parts of the city will be lit up in the Los Angeles Lakers' gold and purple and a streaming event,"Reggiano Forever -- Reggio Emilia remembers Kobe Bryant," will be held in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. New Orleans Pelicans forward Nicolò Melli, who grew up in Reggio Emilia a decade later Bryant abandoned -- two NBA players from a city with a population under 200,000 -- will be a featured guest.

"The very fact that we had exactly the exact same gym teacher because we went into the exact same middle school. The simple fact that we started our youth path in the exact same gym, that we had the same coach. These are aspects that always make me smile," Melli said in a statement. "They also make me in some manner even a little more proud of how my career began."

"OK, 90% of our time was basketball oriented," Ward told ESPN in an interview this week. "So, it was playing in the garden or the gym or playing the Nintendo basketball games or viewing daily tapes -- VHS. For instance, Michael Jordan's'Come Fly With Me,' that cassette was similar to 24/7 about the TV. ... It was all about basketball in any type of expression."

Despite the burgeoning basketball obsession, Bryant used to assert that when he travelled back to Philadelphia and played in the Sonny Hill Future League as a 12-year-old, he scored no points that the entire summer.

"I could think that because there was a time when he left Italy and he came to America, the first couple of years were difficult because everything was so different there," Ward said when asked about Bryant's memory. "He almost couldn't speak slang and become the genuine American cool guy. He had been a European, a Black European, going to the states and basketball-wise, you need to have this [city] strategy from the States in the'90s."

The Bryant that Ward knew had swag, even as a child. So much so that MC Hammer chose him out of a bunch when Bryant attended a concert of the baggy-pantsed performer in Milan together with his sisters and mother.

"We discovered -- Pamela [Bryant] and the girls told us that MC Hammer telephoned him about the stage to dance with him," Ward said. "I guess they'd front-row chairs or whatever and he had been called on the stage to dance with MC Hammer since he had been really, really great at dance [in his chair ]. I remember that clearly."

The coordination showed up on the basketball court also.

"He was a good basketball player. He knew exactly what he had to perform his body," Ward stated. "However he was really skinny at the moment. Still very small. He just had some issues with strength. But seeing technique and everything, he was amazing at basketball. He was like the big Kobe, the adult, in tiny. It had been incredible."

Almost 30 years after first assembly Bryant, Ward was reunited with the grown-up NBA superstar in the Lakers' home locker space, a few weeks before Bryant's last game, as a guest of his old pal.

"I was a dreamer, just like he was, when we were kids and dreaming about being there [in the NBA]. And finally I got there," Ward said. "Through him, but I got there. So it was really satisfying."

Bryant welcomed a little Italy back into his life. Today Bryant's older Italian stomping grounds will welcome his spirit forever more.

"I know that it was just six or seven years that Kobe lived in Italy, but the Italian interval was very, very important for what Kobe became," Ward said. "What he dwelt here, what he learned here, I believe was very important for him in a sense of culture and approach to things. ... This was a sensibility which Kobe had that many others don't have."

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