Naomi Osaka Wears Kobe Bryant Lakers Tribute After Serena Williams Defeat: I Needed 'Extra Strength'
The tennis star famously wore Kobe Bryant's jerseys while competing in the U.S. Open last year
After one of the biggest matches in her career, tennis star Naomi Osaka paid tribute to one of her heroes.
The 23-year-old beat Serena Williams on Thursday to move on in the Australian Open. She will now play in the women's singles final on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, with her opponent yet to be determined.
During a press conference after her victory, Osaka wore a vintage Los Angeles Lakers sweater — a seeming nod to her former mentor, NBA great Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
"For today, I felt like I needed some extra strength," she said of wearing the sweater, according to ESPN. "That's kind of why I'm wearing this."
This isn't the first time Osaka has paid tribute to the five-time NBA champion while competing in a tournament.
During the U.S. Open last year, Osaka regularly wore Bryant's jerseys, including a limited edition "Black Mamba" one after defeating Victoria Azarenka to win the women's singles final.
"I wore this jersey every day after my matches. I truly think it gave me strength. Always 💛💜," she wrote in an Instagram picture of herself in the jersey.
After the match, Osaka told reporters it meant a lot to know that Bryant believed in her. "I just want to be the type of person that he thought I was going to be. He thought I was going to be great, so hopefully, I will be great in the future," she said.
Bryant would have undoubtedly been proud of Osaka's performance against Williams to move on in the Australian Open. After taking the opening set 6-3, Osaka earned her twentieth consecutive win by beating Williams 6-3, 6-4.
In a previous interview with the WSJ. Magazine, Osaka — who met Bryant in June 2019 — recalled how the late NBA icon became her mentor in the sports world.
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"There would be some really tough losses," she said. "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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After news surfaced of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others, Osaka shared an emotional letter in his honor.
"Hey … I don't really know what to do so I'm writing you this letter," she 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."
"Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses," Osaka continued. "Thank you for randomly texting me 'You ok?', cause you know how f—-d up my head is sometimes. Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I've been lucky enough to have known you."