He was known as No. 24 for the Los Angeles Lakers, but when Kobe Bryant shot hoops at Lower Merion High School in the Philadelphia suburbs, he was No. 33. The jersey he wore back then was swiped from the Ardmore school in 2017, but now, in the wake of the late NBA star's death, Bryant's former coach says they have a "fitting ending to a tough week." The AP reports that the long-missing jersey officially came home to the school Saturday during an unveiling ceremony that included a Bryant cousin, ex-teammates, and Gregg Downer, who guided Bryant on the school's court before the teen phenom left for the pros at age 17. After it was stolen from the school, Bryant's jersey fell into the hands of a collector in China, who had a feeling it was ill-gotten goods and reached out to the school.
The process of returning the jersey was already underway when Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed last month in a helicopter crash in California. "For a long time we didn't know where it was," Downer says. "That was kind of an iconic moment when the spotlight went on that jersey. It was just tremendous." Bryant's former guidance counselor, meanwhile, recalls more than just Bryant's athleticism. "His smile was the greatest thing I remember," Frank Hartwell says. “He was just an inspiration to so many." (A tribute to Bryant, Gianna, and the other victims of the helicopter crash was offered at the Super Bowl.)