Sunday marked what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 42nd birthday, and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi found the perfect way to mark the occasion.
When she hit the court in Sunday’s WNBA face-off against the Washington Mystics, she did so with the late legend’s name and number emblazoned across her back.
Taurasi didn’t just honor the Hall of Famer with her No.8/”Bryant” jersey, she also paid her respects by playing a remarkable game and scoring a season-high 34 points, helping her team eke out a win for the night.
“I was really hesitant to wear the jersey today,” the 38-year-old told reporters at the Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. “I was in my room, and I kept looking at it and looking at it. When you put his jersey on, you just want to make sure you honor it the right way. That’s all I was thinking about the whole game. What would Kobe do today? I know Kobe would have fought his ass off every minute.”
So that’s just what she did.
“This is for him and his family,” Taurasi added.
No. 8 was the first of two numbers Bryant wore during his time with the L.A. Lakers. The second was, of course, No. 24, a number he selected based on his old high school jersey.
The WNBA celebrated Bryant’s career all weekend long, with his jerseys hanging courtside. After all, the NBA great was a tremendous proponent of women’s basketball and supported daughter Gianna’s passion for the game.
Gianna, 13, died alongside her father in the helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of seven others in January.
“It’s a bittersweet moment. We celebrate him but still mourn him,” Taurasi added. “We mourn him, Gigi, everyone on that helicopter. We lost a lot that day.”
"I was a lanky, awkward freshman in high school, obsessively shooting night after night in my driveway," she said at the time. "On the nights the Lakers played, I wouldn’t miss a second of the game. Every timeout, every commercial, I’d run to the front yard to imitate my favorite Laker, Kobe."