Naomi Osaka recalls mentor Kobe Bryant's 'calming' influence

·2-min read

Naomi Osaka is opening up about her relationship with Kobe Bryant, who mentored the 24-year-old athlete prior to his death in a helicopter crash in 2020.

The tennis star, who earlier this year made headlines for dropping out of the French Open after declining to speak with the press in order to protect her mental health, appeared on Spotify’s VS Voices podcast with host Amanda de Cadenet to speak about her experience taking care of her emotional wellbeing. Osaka, who alongside de Cadenet is a member of Victoria’s Secret’s newly minted VS Collective, explained that she “learned a lot” from the NBA icon.

“I just learned a lot of calming things,” Osaka explained. “And I also learned how hard he practices and how hard he works at everything he does, which I found extremely motivating. I felt pushed to do better.”

Bryant, who was introduced to the rising star through her manager, also told Osaka to never appear fazed by the media, just as a lion would not be seen swatting away gnats — though the athlete joked she did “the opposite thing that he told me to do.”

“It was definitely helpful, just to like, reach out and talk to him whenever there was a situation that I couldn’t figure out the answer to, and just to have that mentor role be filled by him was definitely a big honor for me,” she noted, adding, “Sometimes I would think about the things that he said, and it would calm me down. I would talk to him about something that stresses me out or something like that, and he would tell me that stress is a part of human nature. It’s not necessarily that you’re not going to be stressed, it’s a way of working through it.”

Osaka previously spoke about her friendship with Bryant in her self-titled Netflix documentary series.

"It's so amazing how one person can touch the hearts of so many people. When I talked to him, I felt so similar to him. The way he would describe how he would do things to get under his opponents' skin or whatever. I was like, 'That's literally what I do,'" Osaka said of Bryant. "So I'm feeling like I let him down. I'm supposed to carry on his mentality in tennis and here I am like … I haven't won a Grand Slam. I'm losing matches because I'm mentally weak, and that's so uncharacteristic of him."

Osaka previously told WSJ. Magazine that Bryant found ways to support her from afar.

"There would be some really tough losses," she told the outlet. "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."

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