Kobe Bryant was an inspiration to many athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka.
The 22-year-old, who is currently the highest paid female athlete in the world, shared a special bond with the legendary basketball player, who passed away in a helicopter crash in January along with his daughter Gianna Bryant. In a new interview, Naomi reflected on her friendship with Kobe and his words of encouragement in her time of need. "There would be some really tough losses," Naomi told WSJ. Magazine. "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 athletes were first introduced through her agent and manager, Stuart Duguid. Shortly after Duguid reached out, Kobe invited Naomi to meet him at his Orange County facility. As Duguid recalled, "She came back to the car and said, 'That was the most productive meeting I've had in my life.'"
On Aug. 23, Naomi, who is currently preparing for her next Grand Slam tournament, took to social media to honor Kobe on his birthday. "Happy birthday Mamba," she began. "At the US Open right now and I practiced on Armstrong so I had a lot of memories of you in my box. That was fun, wish we could've done it again. Miss you."
Kobe's wife, Vanessa Bryant, also posted a heartfelt tribute to her husband on what would have been his 42nd birthday. "I love you and miss you more than I can ever explain. I wish you and Gigi were here to celebrate YOU!" Vanessa, who is also mom to Natalia, Bianka and Capri, wrote in part. "I wish I could make you your fav food or a birthday cake with my Gigi."
"Thank you for growing up with me and teaching me how to be strong. How to try to see the best in people but cutout the bs," she continued. "Your thoughtful gestures and the amazing way you made us all feel is extremely missed. I picture your smile and wide big welcoming hugs daily. God I miss you both so much."