Justin Timberlake and Kobe Bryant were friends.
They weren’t just celebrities who happened to know each other and the singer isn’t upset that Kobe Bryant died on Sunday just because he saw him play basketball a few times.
As Timberlake makes clear in a new tribute to Bryant, the athlete’s sudden passing has affected him on a deep and painful personal level.
"We met when we were both teenagers and bonded over our drive and process," wrote Timberlake to open a lengthy caption that accompanied many photos of the singer and baller together.
"I was in awe of what you could do with a basketball and knew your talent went beyond your physical gifts and stretched to your mentality.
"A mentality that I would take with me throughout my whole career and still use every day."
Bryant, as you likely know by now, died yesterday morning when a private helicopter on which he was a passenger crashed in the mountaints of Calabasas, California.
Among the other eight people on board was Kobe’s 13-year old Gianna.
Timberlake went on:
As the years went by, I watched you do things that seemed humanly unimaginable. And, through ups and downs, championships and injuries, you still remained with an unwavering resolve about your mentality to remain fierce to competition.
But, every time we would speak or text, something started to change… your patience and ease grew. And it inspired me to continue to grow for myself.
Over the past few hours, Lamar Odom has also penned a moving tribute to Bryant, while nearly every recognizable athlete and entertainer has also spoken out.
We’ve collected a number of these messages HERE.
Years passed, and the “old man” jokes would start to be traded back and forth. We both appreciated a good “ribbing.” We joked about “The Vino Club.”
You nicknamed yourself ‘Vino’ to represent how one could age gracefully as a fine wine does. But, you never stopped aiming to inspire me.
Timberlake concluded by talking more about Kobe as a person and as a role model, pouring his heart out as follows:
Your confidence in me was huge – it really affected me because I admired you so much. I don’t mean as one of the greatest athletes ever. I mean as a person. People sometimes can confuse a will to win with a lack of compassion.
That wasn’t you. You had both qualities. The last conversation that we shared was about being fathers and what that meant.
That was, beyond all the things that we could do in this world, our true legacy. Who our children are and what beautiful people they will become.
We’ll just leave the rest now to Timberlake:
And, I guess right now, without being able to find all the words, THAT father connection is what is most devastating for me. I am sending my love to Vanessa and your family and to the families of everyone connected in the mourning of this terrible tragedy.
My heart is broken and my family lifts you up in our thoughts and prayers.
Kobe… You have connected so many of us. The Mamba Mentality will last for all of time. I know that will be a source for me every day as it has been for so many days before. Your legacy is with us. It’s our responsibility to pass it down now.
I hope you I can continue to make you proud, Vino. Champ, MVP, Legend, Hero, Inspiration, Father, Friend. I’m gonna miss you, brother. Mamba forever.