How Kobe Bryant Acted as a Mentor and Friend to Naomi Osaka Before His Death

Naomi Osaka's parents are two of her biggest cheerleaders, but she also had the support of late basketball legend Kobe Bryant. In her self-titled Netflix docuseries, the 23-year-old tennis player opens up about her close friendship with Kobe and how he acted as a mentor for her as she navigated life in the spotlight. The two first met in June of 2019 when her agent and manager introduced them, and they developed a close bond quickly after. In an interview with WSJ. Magazine in August 2020, Naomi added that Kobe helped her find her confidence as a tennis player. "There would be some really tough losses," Naomi told the publication. "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."

In her docuseries, Naomi touches on how Kobe's tragic death in January 2020 affected her personally. "It's so amazing how one person can touch the hearts of so many people," she said following his death. "When I talked to him, I felt so similar to him. The way he was talking and the way he would describe how he would do things to get under his opponent's skin, and I was like, 'That's literally what I do.'" Following her loss against Coco Gauff at the Australian Open in 2020, Naomi added that she felt like she "let him down" in a way. "I'm supposed to carry on his mentality in tennis, and here I am, I haven't won a Grand Slam, I'm losing matches because I'm mentally weak, and that's so uncharacteristic of him," she said. "It's like we're having all these talks and I'm not even doing what we're talking about." In a heartbreaking scene, she revealed that she was going to reach out to Kobe and ask for advice, but didn't text him because she "didn't want to feel like a loser." "Now I'll never have the chance to talk to him again," she told the camera.

Following Kobe's death in January 2020, Naomi paid tribute to him with a heartfelt letter on Instagram alongside a photo of them on the tennis court. "Thank you for being you," she wrote at the time. "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. 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*cked 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. You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you."