Entertainment Sports Alex Rodriguez Says Late Friend Kobe Bryant 'Was a Role Model to Me' in Heartfelt Tribute "I learned so much from Kobe Bryant," Alex Rodriguez wrote By Dave Quinn Dave Quinn Instagram Twitter Dave Quinn is an Editor for PEOPLE, working across a number of verticals including the Entertainment, Lifestyle and News teams. People Editorial Guidelines Published on January 26, 2020 08:39 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Alex Rodriguez shared an emotional tribute to his late friend Kobe Bryant on Sunday, hours after news broke that the basketball legend had died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California along with eight other people — including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. “My heart hurts so much right now. I still can’t wrap my head around this,” Rodriguez, 44, wrote. “How can it be?” The former New York Yankee shortstop and third baseman went on to open up about his friendship with Bryant, 41. “I learned so much from Kobe Bryant,” Rodriguez wrote. “He was naturally gifted, but had a passion for basketball like no one else I’ve ever seen. His work ethic was impeccable and his stress on mastering the fundamentals is what elevated him to the player he was. I’ve never met anyone more focused with a myopic approach. He didn’t pursue approval, affirmation or adulation. He pursued excellence and process. He followed my career and would often call to help with my health, daily routine … and would even chime in about hitting techniques. He was a role model to me, and millions around the world.” Rodriguez also shared that the two met back when they were both teenagers, and supported one another for years — with Bryant even coming to cheer on Rodriguez’s fiancée Jennifer Lopez at her final Las Vegas show in 2018. “We met as teenagers,” he recalled. “We followed similar paths. We went from high school to the pros and our baby girls grew up together. People don’t know this, but he was my secret coach. He pushed me and motivated me, especially toward the end of my career when I needed him most. He was always there. Even after our playing days, he was there for me. He attended @Jlo’s last show in Vegas. He appeared on TheCorp podcast.” DJ Khaled Holds Up a Kobe Bryant Shirt on the Grammys Red Carpet: ‘It’s Hard to Even Celebrate’ Alex Rodriguez (left) and Kobe Bryant. Robin Marchant/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images Billy Ray Cyrus Dedicates Both ‘Old Town Road’ Grammys to ‘Kobe and His Beautiful Daughter’ Gianna They last saw one another only “a few months ago,” according to Rodriguez. During that meeting, Rodriguez said Bryant — who had retired from basketball — was still saying no to “99 percent of offers” coming his way, “choosing instead to spend as much time with his family as possible.” That family included Bryant’s 37-year-old wife, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months, whom he and Gianna are survived by. “I will remember what he told me about how much he loved Vanessa and his girls,” Rodriguez said. “I will remember his greatness. I will remember his guidance. I will remember his friendship. I will remember that he made me a better person.” Rodriguez ended his tribute by honoring Bryant and Gianna. “His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was following in her Dad’s footsteps. She was kind, smart, caring and going to be a star,” wrote Rodriguez, who has two daughters himself, 15-year-old Natasha and 11-year-old Ella. “Rest in peace, Kobe. Rest in peace, GiGi. My heart and prayers go out to the Bryant family and the passengers’ families.” Authorities Confirm 9 Victims Died in Calabasas Crash Involving Kobe Bryant and His Daughter Allen Berezovsky/Getty Stars Pay Tribute to Kobe Bryant at the Grammys Hours After He & Daughter Died in a Helicopter Crash Bryant, 41, and Gianna were on board the helicopter that crashed on Sunday around 10 a.m. local time in Calabasas, California. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby were among those who held a press conference Sunday afternoon, explaining that nine victims in total — the pilot and eight others — died in the incident. “All survivors were determined to have been perished,” Osby said, adding it took authorities eight minutes to get to the crash site. “Our firefighters on the scene indicated there was a debris-filled and steep terrain with quarter-acre brushfire,” Osby said. “Our firefighters hiked into the accident site with medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the stubborn fire, as it included the brushfire debris from the helicopter. The fire also included magnesium which is very hard for our firefighters to extinguish because magnesium reacts with oxygen and water.” TMZ, who first reported the news, said Bryant was traveling with Gianna to a game on his private helicopter when it went down. Since then, three more victims have been identified, including John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa Altobelli. Alyssa was a teammate of Gianna’s. John, 56, and Keri are also parents to daughter Alexis Altobelli and son John Altobelli, who works as a scout for the Red Sox. Orange Coast College confirmed the news of their death in a statement on its website. “Orange Coast College asks the media and the public to respect the privacy of John’s family and friends during this difficult time,” they said.