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Even a full year after Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, Naomi Osaka still thinks of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend “every day.”
The 23-year-old tennis superstar made a mentor of Bryant during a low point of her still-young career. Back in 2019, when Osaka found herself in a significant slump after winning back-to-back Grand Slam championships, her agent brought in the five-time NBA champion for a much-needed pep talk.
“Believing in yourself is something that’s not always easy to do for anyone, but that was one thing I took from Kobe,” Osaka said in an exclusive interview with Insider. “Self-doubt helps nobody, and if you cannot believe in yourself, you cannot expect others to believe in you.”
Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others a year ago Tuesday. Osaka was hit hard by the NBA superstar’s untimely death and even described feeling as though she was living in “an alternate reality” while crying over videos of the superstar in February of last year.
It’s like everyday they release some more Kobe videos and stuff for everyone to cry about. This feels like an alternate reality.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) February 1, 2020
But after Bryant’s death, Osaka continued to draw inspiration from “The Black Mamba.” She regularly wore Kobe’s No. 8 Lakers jersey after matches to channel his energy during her historic 2020 US Open championship run.
— ESPN (@espn) September 11, 2020
And as she gears up for next month’s Australian Open — her first tournament of 2021 — Osaka will almost certainly find a way to honor Bryant’s legacy and embody his famous “Mamba Mentality.”
“He gives me strength,” Osaka told Insider. “And I think about him every day.”
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