UK markets open in 17 minutes

Justin Timberlake pays tribute to friend Kobe Bryant, recalling how they bonded as teenagers

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Justin Timberlake is processing the loss of his friend Kobe Bryant.

The singer and actor paid tribute to the Lakers great, who died Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash along with eight others, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter and two of her young teammates.

In the social media post, he wrote about how they met as teens when they were both rising stars in their industries.

Read more: Kobe Bryant left huge impact on business off the court

Through their careers, they were able to support each other, not just at basketball games (Timberlake is a minority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies team), but presenting awards to each other at industry events.

Justin Timberlake says his "heart is broken" over the loss of "brother Kobe Bryant. The men are pictured together at the Teen Choice Awards in 2016. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Fox/Getty Images for Fox)

Some 20 years after they first met, the men, who called each other “brother,” had started making “old man” jokes when they’d see each other, revealed Timberlake, who said Mamba’s new self-given nickname was “Vino” because he was ageing gracefully. They’d chat about their families — and their legacies as Bryant moved on to his post-NBA life. Now, Timberlake says his “heart is broken” amid “this terrible tragedy.”

“We met when we were both teenagers and bonded over our drive and process,” said the post written by Timberlake, who turns 39 this week.

“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.” He said he took that ‘Mamba Mentality’ “with me throughout my whole career and still use every day.”

Timberlake watching Bryant play with the Lakers in 2012. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Timberlake noted that while Bryant remained a “fierce” competitor, winning championships and dominating in his sport, he noticed Bryant’s “patience and ease” grew. “And it inspired me to continue to grow for myself.”

And they had grown. No longer teenagers, they “joked about [being in] ‘the Vino Club,’” as they matured into family men — Bryant with wife Vanessa and their four daughters and Timberlake with Jessica Biel and their son Silas, 4. They were getting older but embracing what life offered.

Timberlake said he was so touched by the “confidence” Bryant had in him “because I admired you so much,” he wrote. “I don’t mean as one of the greatest athletes ever. I mean as a person.”

He also recalled their last conversation, which 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. And, I guess right now, without being able to find all the words, THAT father connection is what is most devastating for me.”

Kobe Bryant and artist Justin Timberlake at the 2016 Teen Choice Awards. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Fox/Getty Images for Fox)

Timberlake said that he and Biel are “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.”

He ended by writing, “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.”

Timberlake has referenced their “Vino Club” before, when Bryant announced his retirement in his “Dear Basketball” letter in 2015 and when he played his final game the next year.

In 2016, Timberlake presented Bryant with the ESPYS Icon Award. In his speech he hailed him as a “legend,” alongside other winners Peyton Manning and Abby Wambach.

Weeks later, Bryant gave Timberlake the first-ever Teen Decade Award at the Teen Choice Awards. The basketball star said onstage, “I’m not just a fan. I consider myself a friend.” And when Timberlake accepted the award, he bowed to Bryan before they two embraced.