RIO DE JANEIRO — With Pelé’s death, Brazilians have lost a piece of their hearts.
On Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach, the news broke when Paulo Vinicius was playing soccer with his 9-year-old nephew.
“Pelé represents the best of Brazil: its people, its working class,” said Vinicius, 38, a physical-education instructor. “Pelé gives a sense of identity to the Brazilian people.”
In the coastal city of Santos, where Pelé made his name, Nicolas Oliveira, 18, was outside the stadium along with roughly 200 others. Oliveira said even replays of Pelé’s sensational playing make him swell with emotion.
“Pelé is a Black man from the interior of Minas Gerais state,” Oliveira said. “I’m here because of what he did, for the soccer he played, for the soccer he improved and for the future players he helped mold and inspire.”
Everton Luz, a 41-year-old lawyer, was crying outside the hospital with a Santos club flag wrapped around him. He had come directly from work to pay tribute to the player whose performances had electrified his own dad, and prompted decades of stories.
Luz recounts those stories to his own two children, and shows them videos of the idol. He recalled seeing Pelé in person once, watching a game at a stadium.
“We managed to get close to his box, and he waved goodbye,” Luz said. “He was an example of the Brazilian, of what we could become.”
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