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Novak Djokovic opens up about his special relationship with basketball superstar Kobe Bryant

Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has opened up about his special relationship with Kobe Bryant, whose shocking sudden death has rocked the tennis world. 

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed along with and seven others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning. 

The athlete’s death has cast a shadow over the Australian Open, which is currently underway at Melbourne Park.

Just days earlier, Djokovic revealed the legendary basketball star had been a mentor to him, and helped him when he dropped outside of the top 20 of the ATP rankings as he recovered from an elbow injury. 

 

Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has opened up about his special relationship with Kobe Bryant (both pictured), whose shocking sudden death has rocked the tennis world

The crash site where Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter Gianna died when their helicopter went down in Calabasas, California, on Sunday

The crash site where Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter Gianna died when their helicopter went down in Calabasas, California, on Sunday

‘When I was going through the injury with my elbow and struggling to mentally and emotionally handle all of these different things that were happening to me and dropping in the rankings and then having to work my way up, he was one of the people who was really there for me to give me some very valuable advice and guidelines to kind of believe and trust in myself, trust the process that I’ll be back,’ he said on Saturday.

‘I’m very grateful to him for being there for me, for being very supportive. I love Kobe, who doesn’t? He’s an amazing guy and one of the best basketball players and athletes of all time.’ 

Many tennis players were left in shock as news broke of the crash, and have offered their condolences to his family. 

‘I woke up this morning with the horrible news of the tragic death of one of the greatest sportsman in the world. Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and other passengers. My condolences to his wife and families. I am in shock,’ Rafa Nadal tweeted.

‘Terribly sad to wake up to this news today. RIP Kobe Bryant. Too young. Deepest condolences to family and friends of the sporting legend,’ Australian tennis legend Rod Laver said.

The 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star’s private Sikorsky S-76 struck a hillside amid heavy fog and immediately caught fire at around 10am. Law enforcement told TMZ even LAPD air support had been grounded due to the bad weather. 

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (pictured together in December) and seven others were killed when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (pictured together in December) and seven others were killed when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning

Officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene near Las Virgenes Rd and Willow Glen St in Calabasas after a group of mountain bikers spotted the smoke. 

Initial reports claimed five had been killed, but the death toll was raised to nine – including the pilot – at a press conference Sunday night.  

The cause of the crash is under investigation. Witnesses reported hearing the helicopter’s engine sputtering before it went down near the home of Kourtney Kardashian.  

Sources told TMZ  the 18-time NBA All-Star was headed to Mamba Academy – which he founded – in Thousand Oaks for basketball practice. The outlet reported that one of the passengers killed was John Altobelli – a baseball coach at Orange County College.  

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that another player and parent were also on the helicopter. Their identities have not been confirmed.  

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva would not confirm the identities of the victims Sunday afternoon pending official word from the coroner. ‘God bless their souls,’ Villanueva said at a news conference. 

The 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star's private Sikorsky S-76 struck a hillside amid heavy fog and immediately caught fire at around 10am. Officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department responded to the scene near Las Virgenes Rd and Willow Glen St in Calabasas after a group of mountain bikers spotted the smoke

The 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star’s private Sikorsky S-76 struck a hillside amid heavy fog and immediately caught fire at around 10am. Officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene near Las Virgenes Rd and Willow Glen St in Calabasas after a group of mountain bikers spotted the smoke

One of the nine passengers killed was identified as - a baseball coach at Orange County College.

One of the nine passengers killed was identified as John Altobelli – a baseball coach at Orange County College (pictured)

Smoke is seen billowing from the crashed chopper after it burst into flames

Smoke is seen billowing from the crashed chopper after it burst into flames

A flight plan indicated the helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9.06am PST and the last signal was received from the aircraft at 9.45am. It was expected to land at San Gabriel Valley Airport in El Monte.   

Those living nearby the crash scene said they heard what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter. Colin Storm said: ‘It was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything. But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.’

Firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter, but found no survivors, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.  

Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa and their three other daughters – Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born last summer. 

A heartbreaking video of the deceased father-daughter duo attending a basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets on December 21 resurfaced soon after the crash.  

Bryant appears to be teaching Gianna – a budding basketball star herself – a thing or two about the game while sitting courtside at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

Gianna frequently shared photos of herself on the court on social media.  

Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships and 18 All-Star titles before he retired in 2016. He is pictured on the court in 2013

Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships and 18 All-Star titles before he retired in 2016. He is pictured on the court in 2013

Bryant was believed to be flying in the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter he'd used to travel for years. He is seen preparing to board the private chopper in Los Angeles in April 2013

Bryant was believed to be flying in the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter he’d used to travel for years. He is seen preparing to board the private chopper in Los Angeles in April 2013

A flight plan indicated the helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9.06am PST and the last signal was received from the aircraft at 9.45am

A flight plan indicated the helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9.06am PST and the last signal was received from the aircraft at 9.45am

Flight data shows the speed of helicopter. Bryant died in the foggy hills above Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Law enforcement said LAPD air support had been grounded due to the bad weather

Flight data shows the speed of helicopter. Bryant died in the foggy hills above Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Law enforcement said LAPD air support had been grounded due to the bad weather

News of the NBA legend’s death sent shockwaves in the sports world and beyond – marking an abrupt ending to one of most indelible public lives in modern American history.  

Barack Obama called Bryant ‘a legend on the court just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act’. 

He said: ‘To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.’ 

President Donald Trump reacted to the reports of Bryant’s death soon after they began to surface, tweeting: ‘That is terrible news!’ 

He later added: ‘Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. 

‘The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating. Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all!  

Bryant produced an animated short film, 'Dear Basketball,' that ultimately won an Oscar

Bryant produced an animated short film, ‘Dear Basketball,’ that ultimately won an Oscar

Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa (pictured together in December) and their three other daughters - Natalia, Bianca and newborn Capri

Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa (pictured together in December) and their three other daughters – Natalia, Bianca and newborn Capri

Magic Johnson, Jeanie Buss, Kobe Bryant, wife Vanessa Bryant and daughters Gianna Maria Onore Bryant, Natalia Diamante Bryant, Bianka Bella Bryant and Rob Pelinka pose for a picture during Kobe Bryant's jersey retirement ceremony on December 18, 2017

Magic Johnson, Jeanie Buss, Kobe Bryant, wife Vanessa Bryant and daughters Gianna Maria Onore Bryant, Natalia Diamante Bryant, Bianka Bella Bryant and Rob Pelinka pose for a picture during Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement ceremony on December 18, 2017

Bryant is seen with wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia and Gianna in February 2018

Bryant is seen with wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia and Gianna in February 2018

A heartbreaking video of the deceased father-daughter duo attending a basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets on December 21 resurfaced soon after the crash

A heartbreaking video of the deceased father-daughter duo attending a basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets on December 21 resurfaced soon after the crash 

Kobe is seen greeting his daughter Gianna before the NBA All-Star Game in 2016

Kobe is seen greeting his daughter Gianna before the NBA All-Star Game in 2016

Gianna - a budding basketball star in her own right - frequently shared photos of herself on the court on social media

Gianna – a budding basketball star in her own right – frequently shared photos of herself on the court on social media

Thousands gather outside Staples Center to pay their respects to legendary NBA star Kobe Bryant 

Thousands of fans gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles to mourn the passing of legendary NBA star Kobe Bryant, who died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna with three others in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

The Lakers’ next game isn’t until Tuesday night against the crosstown rival Clippers, but hundreds of fans — many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear — spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image before the Grammy awards ceremony. 

Images and videos began flooding social media of mourners paying their respects outside the arena after the 41-year-old Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Fans brought flowers and left hats, jerseys and other memorabilia in a tribute to the former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star.

The sad scene was taking place as the Grammy’s also were set to be held in the arena Sunday night.

Fans also were outside the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, which Bryant founded and was reported going to with his daughter for basketball practice. 

REPORTING BY RALPH R. ORTEGA 

The NBA kept its games on as scheduled when the news broke, but the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors both took voluntary 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their game in honor of Bryant, who wore No. 24 for the second half of his career. 

Bryant was widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. 

The Philadelphia native was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft and spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP titles and 18 All-Star titles before retiring in 2016. 

Bryant was on 15 All-NBA Teams, 12 All-Defensive Teams and represented the USA at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. 

He was the first guard in NBA history to play at least 20 seasons and was the first and only player in Lakers history to have both of his jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – retired. 

He is currently ranked fourth for all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring. 

The impact he had on fans was readily apparent in the hours after the news broke as mourners wearing his No. 8 and No. 14 began assembling outside the Staples Center, where the Grammy Awards were being held Sunday evening.

His longtime Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal wrote on Twitter: ‘There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. 

‘I love you brother and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW!’ 

Bryant teamed with O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.  

Retired NBA superstar Michael Jordan, to whom Bryant was often compared, expressed similar sentiments.

‘Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,’ Jordan said in a statement. ‘We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.’  

Fans and mourners gather at the Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park to pay thier respects to Kobe Bryant

Fans and mourners gather at the Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park to pay thier respects to Kobe Bryant

Bryant was widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The Philadelphia native was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft and spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP titles and 18 All-Star titles before retiring in 2016

Bryant was widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The Philadelphia native was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft and spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP titles and 18 All-Star titles before retiring in 2016

The impact he had on fans was readily apparent in the hours after the news broke as mourners wearing his No. 8 and No. 14 began assembling outside the Staples Center, where the Grammy Awards were being held Sunday evening

The impact he had on fans was readily apparent in the hours after the news broke as mourners wearing his No. 8 and No. 14 began assembling outside the Staples Center, where the Grammy Awards were being held Sunday evening

Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers and forward P.J. Tucker react during a tribute to Bryant before a game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday

Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers and forward P.J. Tucker react during a tribute to Bryant before a game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday

Bryant’s death came one day after he was passed by Lakers forward LeBron James for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. ‘Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,’ Bryant wrote in his last tweet. ‘Much respect my brother.’

Kobe Bryant’s career highlights

5-time NBA champion (2000-2002, 2009, 2010)

— 2-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (2009–2010)

— NBA MVP (2008)

— Academy Award winner for animated short film (2018)

— 18-time NBA All-Star (1998, 2000–2016)

— 4-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011)

— 11-time All-NBA First Team (2002–2004, 2006–2013)

— 2-time All-NBA Second Team (2000–2001)

— 2-time All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2005) 

— 9-time NBA All-Defensive First Team (2000, 2003–2004, 2006–2011)

— 3-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2001–2002, 2012)

— 2-time NBA scoring champion (2006–2007)

— 2-time Olympic gold medalist (2008, 2012)

— NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion (1997)

— NBA All-Rookie Second Team (1997)

— Los Angeles Lakers all-time leading scorer (33,643 points)

— Naismith Prep Player of the Year (1996)  

The unseated star congratulated James on Twitter during the Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. 

James had written ‘Mamba 4 Life’ and ‘8/24 KB’ on his sneakers in gold ink before the game to show respect for Bryant.  

‘It’s another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school,’ James told reporters in Bryant’s home town of Philadelphia on Saturday. ‘Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration.

‘It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So, just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling.’

James is just one of the people that Bryant inspired, and judging by the outpouring of sorrow on the streets of Los Angeles, he is in considerable company.

‘Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,’ Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter.

‘Kobe was not only an icon in the sports arena, he was a man of the world and touched so many lives and communities in the most positive ways,’ said Hall of Famer Larry Bird. 

‘His star was continuing to rise every day and he knew no limits because of his many intellectual and creative talents and desire to give back to others – his passion for the game, for his family and for others was apparent in everything he accomplished.’ 

Pau Gasol, a former teammate of Bryant’s with the Lakers, tweeted, ‘Beyond devastated… my big brother… I can’t, I just can’t believe it.’

Philadelphia 76ers center Joe Embiid said that he started playing basketball after watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals.

‘I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life,’ Embiid wrote on Twitter. ‘I WANTED TO BE LIKE KOBE. I’m so FREAKING SAD right now!!!!’  

Bryant took to Instagram hours before his death to celebrate Lebron James surpassing him as No 2 All-Time Top Scorer

Bryant took to Instagram hours before his death to celebrate Lebron James surpassing him as No 2 All-Time Top Scorer

Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant after tragic crash

Former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tweeted that ‘Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.’

And former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen added: ‘I’m stunned. Words can’t even come close to describing it. Just an incredibly sad and tragic day.’  

Bryant will certainly be remembered for his accomplishments – but his most memorable quality was his unwavering self confidence.

He jumped straight from a Philadelphia high school to the NBA Draft at 17, forgoing college at a time when predominant wisdom dictated that prospects develop their game at the NCAA level. 

And although he couldn’t even vote when his NBA career began in 1996, he refused to kowtow to his veteran teammates, famously feuding with Shaquille O’Neal over the All-Star center’s conditioning and dedication.

‘I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,’ James told reporters of Bryant on Saturday. 

‘There’s no substitution for work.’

Even at the end of his career, when a battered 37-year-old Bryant and the Lakers finished just 17-65, the 18-time All-Star gave a fitting farewell, dominating the Utah Jazz in his final game while scoring 60 points — the most by any player in the NBA that season.

Bryant’s self-assuredness continued into his post-playing career.

In addition to his vast endorsement deals, Kobe established his own sports brand, Kobe Inc, and saw his share in the business get a reported $200million valuation in 2018.

That same year he produced an animated short film, ‘Dear Basketball’, that ultimately won an Oscar – one of the innumerable awards that found their way to Bryant.

Naturally, Bryant did not have any humble origins.

Born in Philadelphia to 76ers forward Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant and Pamela Cox, the sister of another NBA player, Kobe’s life was inextricably linked to basketball, and not just in the United States.

After a solid eight-year NBA career, Joe moved the family to Italy when Kobe was just six to continue playing professionally.

It was there that Bryant learned to speak Italian fluently, scoured the NBA highlight videos his grandfather sent him from the US, and rooted for his father’s teammate, current Houston Rockets and former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

Throughout it all, basketball remained a constant in Bryant’s life.

His family moved back to Philadelphia at the end of his father’s basketball career. 

The younger Bryant attended Lower Merion High School, where his jersey is now retired, and by his senior year had become a national sensation.

The Lakers traded star center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for a Bryant’s draft rights in 1996, and the budding superstar rewarded Los Angeles by winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award as a rookie.

Bryant was a starter by his second season, and when coach Phil Jackson brought the famous triangle offense to the Lakers in 1999, Los Angeles came back to prominence, winning three consecutive titles.

Even after the team traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat, the Lakers re-loaded with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, helping Bryant to win another two NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.

But Bryant’s life had its valleys along with its peaks.

He suffered an Achilles tendon injury at 34 that more or less ended his days as an elite NBA player.

More infamously, Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003 by a 19-year-old woman working at a Colorado resort, where he was recovering from surgery. 

Bryant claimed the sex was consensual and prosecutors dropped the charges at the request of the accuser after a reported deal was struck.

The incident became tabloid fodder as Bryant gave his wife Vanessa a ring reportedly worth $4million as an apology.

But Bryant still managed to repair his image, and even became known as doting father to his four daughters.  

Heart-wrenching footage shows Kobe Bryant’s daughter Gianna, 13, practicing her basketball skills in heels weeks before she died alongside her father 

Heartbreaking footage captured young Gianna ‘Gigi’ Bryant showing off basketball skills she learned from father and basketball legend, Kobe Bryant, in heels’ weeks before the two died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday. 

Shared in an Instagram video in December, 13-year-old Gianna can be seen scoring baskets wearing heels and a dress while her teammates practice around her on a court. 

She’s able to seamlessly dribble the basketball behind her back and through her legs without missing a single step.  

Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa and their three other daughters – Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born last summer. 

Gianna 'Gigi' Bryant, 13, impressively scored baskets and practiced her basketball skills in heels just weeks before she and father Kobe Bryant would die in a helicopter crash

Gianna ‘Gigi’ Bryant, 13, impressively scored baskets and practiced her basketball skills in heels just weeks before she and father Kobe Bryant would die in a helicopter crash 

Pictured; Gianna Bryant

Pictured; Gianna Bryant

Gianna easily dribbles the ball between her legs and behind her back as she struts across the basketball court in a video shared on Instagram in December 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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