Just a few days after the late baller‘s birthday and the newly-implemented Mamba Day in his honor, Naomi Osaka is revealing some of her favorite memories with Kobe Bryant.
In a new interview with The Wall Street Journal Magazine for their September Women’s Style Issue, the 22-year-old tennis champion opened up about bonding with the Lakers legend before his untimely death on January 26 in a tragic helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Osaka and Bryant met in June 2019, and from then on, he would show her support after tough matches, even when she didn‘t expect him to be following her career very closely.
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Nothing but love to @wsjmag for letting me be on their September cover. Talked about speaking out more and the US Open among various things so if you feel like reading you should check it out. Photography : @micaiahcarter Writer : @elk_elisa Styling : @jessswill Makeup : @patrickta Hair : @lacyredway Set Design : @heathmattioli
“There would be some really tough losses,” Osaka recalls. “I didn’t even know he was paying attention, but he would text me positive things and tell me to learn from it. For me, it was definitely helpful.”
The tennis star is just one of the several athletes featured in a new short film inspired by Bryant titled Better--which is extremely fitting, since she remembers an exchange she had with the baller where he told her just that. When she told Kobe she aspired to be like him, he replied, “No, be better.”
In February, shortly after Bryant‘s untimely passing, Osaka shared a precious throwback clip on Twitter featuring herself volleying a tennis ball back and forth with the legend. “He wasn’t THAT bad at tennis,” she jokingly wrote in the caption. ”Haha love you bro.”
This isn‘t the first time Naomi has spoken about the inspiration Kobe provided to her. After news surfaced of in January that the tragic helicopter crash killed Bryant, Osaka posted an emotional letter to her mentor expressing just how grateful she is for him.
“Hey … I don’t really know what to do so I’m writing you this letter,” she wrote at the time. “Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you’ve touched. Thank you for being so humble and not acting as big as you are.”
She continued, “Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses. Thank you for randomly texting me ‘You ok?’, cause you know how f****d up my head is sometimes. Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I’ve been lucky enough to have known you. “
“Thank you for existing,” she concluded. “You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you.”