NEW YORK — After winning his 24th Grand Slam on Sunday, U.S. Open men’s singles champion Novak Djokovic paid tribute to close friend Kobe Bryant, the late Lakers star who wore No. 24 for 10 seasons in Los Angeles.
Djokovic, 36, who defeated Daniil Medvedev to win his fourth U.S. Open singles title and set a record with his 24th Grand Slam title in the Open era, donned a light blue T-shirt with the slogan “Mamba Forever” across the chest, Tennis.com reported. The shirt featured images of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, and himself.
Bryant, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in May 2021, was nicknamed “The Black Mamba.”
After his victory, Djokovic also wore a custom jacket with the No. 24 on the front pocket, ESPN reported.
“I thought of doing this T-shirt eventually, if I get the chance to win the tournament, it was about seven days ago,” Djokovic said as he addressed fans at New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium during the trophy ceremony. “I didn’t share it with anyone until a few days ago when I asked my people to help me out to make these shirts.
“Kobe was a close friend, we chatted a lot about the winner’s mentality. When I was struggling with injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game, you know, he was one of the people I relied on the most. He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in the most friendly way,” Djokovic added. “So, of course what happened a few years ago and him and his daughter passing, hurt me deeply.
“I thought, 24 is the jersey that he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and of world basketball. I thought it could be a nice, symbolic thing to acknowledge him for all the things he’s done.”