Naomi Osaka has recently been vocal about the effects tennis had has on her mental health, but in her forthcoming documentary, she opens up about the loss of Kobe Bryant, a mentor who helped her through some of the adversities she faced while playing the sport.
“It’s so amazing how one person can, like, touch the hearts of so many people. I’ve been walking around, and there’s so many people with Bryant jerseys on,” she says in footage recorded on Jan. 27, 2020, the day after Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash and four days after she lost to American Coco Gauff in the third round of the Australian Open.
“When I talked to him, I felt so similar to him. Like the way he was talking, the way he would describe how, I don’t know, he would do things to get under his opponents’ skin or whatever,” she continued. “I was like, ‘That’s literally what I do.’ So I’m feeling like I let him down, like, I’m supposed to carry on his mentality in tennis, and here I am like, having what … I haven’t won a Grand Slam. Like, I’m losing matches because I’m mentally weak, and he’s … that’s so uncharacteristic of him.”
Osaka reportedly met Bryant in June 2019. He subsequently took an interest in her career, watching her play in the US Open that summer and occasionally offering words of encouragement along the way. In the film, she expressed regret for allowing her loss to stop her from contacting Bryant in his final days.
“We’re having all these talks, and I’m not even doing what we’re talking about,” said Osaka. “So it’s like I’m just gonna text him again, like, ‘How do you heal with this situation?’ And then I didn’t text him that ’cause I didn’t wanna feel like a loser, and now I’ll never have the chance to talk to him again. I don’t know, like wow.”
In the wake of the fatal accident that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, Osaka paid homage to the NBA legend by wearing his jerseys after every match during the 2020 US Open. She also posted an emotional letter thanking him for being a positive figure in her life and the lives of others.
“Hey … I don’t really know what to do so I’m writing you this letter,” the ESPYs winner wrote. “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.”
Naomi Osaka: Playing By Her Own Rules — a three-part Netflix docuseries executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter — chronicles the two years after Osaka’s victory in the 2018 US Open and is slated to premiere on July 16. Check out the trailer below.