Barack Obama and Kobe Bryant met several times over the years, and the NBA legend once thanked the former President for making him more ‘politically aware.’
Barack Obama, 58, has posted a moving memorial in tribute to Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jan. 26. “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” the former President tweeted just hours after the news broke. “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,” he added, sending condolences to Kobe’s wife Vanessa Bryant, 37, and their other children Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 mos.
The two men met several times over the years, and Obama infamously referenced Kobe’s ‘Black Mamba’ moniker at his final White House correspondents’ dinner in May 2016. “Obama out!” the President exclaimed on-stage, which was a play on Kobe’s iconic “Mamba out!” as he wrapped his last game with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016. The retired NBA star laughed about the reference on Twitter, simply writing “Haha! #obamaout #mambaout.” Kobe also paid several visits to the White House when Obama was in office, including gifting the president with a signed jersey in 2009, a 2010 appearance following the Lakers championship win and a meeting in 2015 after Kobe announced his retirement. Nike’s Kobe x Elite “Commander” shoe is also said to be inspired by Barack and Kobe’s friendship, and features a logo with both the Presidential seal and Kobe’s “Mamba” emblem.
“Obama didn’t inspire someone like [former San Francisco 49ers quarterback] Colin Kaepernick,” Kobe said of Barack in a 2017 interview with Politico.com. “But he did help athletes progress beyond just asking questions or just being angry, and asking why something is the way it is. Like what’s the constitutional reason behind something and what can be changed.” Kobe also credited Barack Obama for making the sports world more “politically aware,” noting that he missed him in the office. “Conversations changed. Obviously, now with the violence we’re seeing across the country, that’s something athletes are understanding more and more. [Obama] was rare. We all miss him to a certain extent.”
Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. 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.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 26, 2020
Other tributes have been pouring in from celebrities on social media, including from actress Halle Berry, 53. “There are no real words to convey the depth of my sadness. Love and strength to Kobe’s entire family and to the families of all who were lost in today’s crash,” she tweeted. Jennifer Hudson, 38, also took to social media to pay tribute. “I was holding out hoping that it wasn’t true ! Lord his daughter too. #kobebryant #giannabryant,” Jennifer posted on Twitter.