Parteek Katyal of Bethpage had planned to wear a Knicks RJ Barrett jersey to Sunday night’s game against the Nets at the Garden. But as he stood in the fourth row from the baseline watching pregame warm-ups, he proudly displayed a No. 24 white Lakers jersey in honor of Kobe Bryant.
“I’ve only worn this jersey twice in my life to any game,” Katyal, 26, told The Post. “That’s when I saw him play here in 2012 and then today. I grew up watching him. I couldn’t stop crying when I heard the news. I started shaking. First you thought it was a basketball tragedy. But it’s a world tragedy.”
News of Bryant’s tragic death in a helicopter crash earlier in the day filled the World’s Most Famous Arena with a heavy sadness.
The lights surrounding the outer walls of the Garden were colored in purple and gold. Neither head coach, Kenny Atkinson of the Nets nor Mike Miller of the Knicks, took questions during their usual pregame press conferences, and Nets guard Kyrie Irving was so devastated after a receiving a phone call with the terrible news, he couldn’t play. The emotion was raw and real.
When Bryant played at the Garden it was always a special event. He played his first All-Star Game at the Garden in 1998 and later set a then Garden record by scoring 61 points on Feb. 2, 2009. His final appearance as a player came in November 2015. Bryant hadn’t officially announced his retirement, but the Garden showed him plenty of love with thunderous ovations throughout the game.
“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said that night. “[Walt] Frazier and [Earl] Monroe and all those teams. I was truly a fan watching all these games. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had. I feel very fortunate.”
The Garden showed him love again Sunday night. Before the game, the 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, was given a moment of silence as the public address announcer reminded the crowd of the “multiple iconic moments” Bryant enjoyed at the Garden.
Then the players paid tribute. When the Nets retrieved the opening tip, both teams stood motionless for several seconds until a violation was called. When the Knicks were given the ball, they did the same as the crowd cheered and offered a chant of “Ko-be … Ko-be.” It was a classy gesture.
So were the Lakers jerseys that dotted the crowd. Katyal, a banker, has the Knicks logo tattooed on his forearm. But his favorite player has always been Bryant.
“I was going to wear the RJ Barrett jersey, but as soon as I saw this, it changed everything,” said Katyal, who traveled to Los Angeles during Kobe’s final season to watch him play. “If there’s only one way I can honor him, it’s wearing his jersey. In my eyes he’s always going to be the greatest player of all time because that’s who I grew up on. I didn’t get to see Michael Jordan play. All I know is Kobe.”
Bryant was honored by fans of all ages. Joey Kassin, 12, of New Jersey, was with his father Ezra wearing a purple No. 24 jersey.
“The news hit him pretty hard,” the elder Kassin said of his son’s reaction to Bryant’s death. “We’ve been talking about it the whole time.”
“He was just a great player,” Joey Kassin said. “I just liked watching him.”
Hannah De Kretser, 14, and her brothers, Nathan, 20, and Lachlan, 18, had traveled from Melbourne, Australia, to catch the Knicks games with the Lakers on Wednesday and Sunday’s game against the Nets. Hannah was wearing Bryant’s No. 8 Lakers jersey, something she had brought with her from Australia.
“It’s a sign of respect for Kobe Bryant’s passing,” she said. “My brothers and I grew up watching him.
“My first NBA2K was 2K10,” Lachlan said. “It had Kobe on the front cover. He’s the reason we play basketball.”
Bryant once called the Garden “a second home.” Sunday night the Garden felt like it lost one of its own.