Kobe Bryant's stolen high school jersey returned by collector in China

"That was kind of an iconic moment when the spotlight went on that jersey," Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer told NBC Philadelphia.
Image: Kobe Bryant's retired high school jersey was returned to Lower Merion High School.
Kobe Bryant's retired high school jersey was returned to Lower Merion High School.NBC Philadelphia

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

The jersey that late NBA legend Kobe Bryant wore while playing at his Philadelphia high school has been returned after being stolen in 2017, according to Lower Merion High School.

The No. 33 jersey, which was stolen and then reappeared in China after being bought by a collector, was unveiled on Saturday at Lower Merion High School in a ceremony that include Bryant's cousin, his old high school coach and a former teammate at the gym that bears his name, Bryant Gymnasium, according to NBC Philadelphia.

"That was kind of an iconic moment when the spotlight went on that jersey. It was just tremendous," Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer told NBC Philadelphia. "It was major irony, almost, how we've been waiting for that jersey for a long time. For a long time we didn't know where it was. To have it back, it's a fitting ending to a tough week."

The jersey was returned after a collector contacted the school, suspecting the memorabilia had been stolen. The process of returning the item to the school began prior to Bryant's death in a helicopter crash last Sunday.

Bryant, who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, died in the crash in the Los Angeles area along with seven other people.

Bryant gained national recognition while playing for the Lower Merion Aces from 1992 to 1996, entering the NBA directly after graduation from the high school.

As speeches were given and portraits unveiled, approximately 1,600 people packed into the gym, wearing black T-shirts that read "The Heartbeat of Aces Nation."

"His smile was the greatest thing I remember," Bryant's former guidance counselor, Frank Hartwell, said. “He was just an inspiration to so many, it wasn't all about himself.”