Osaka’s masks drew attention at the US Open, but this piece of clothing gave her the strength to win

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The image shows Naomi Osaka in an empty tennis stadium, clutching her second US Open trophy while wearing late basketball star Kobe Bryant’s number eight Los Angeles Lakers jersey.

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Bryant, whose life — and that of his 14-year-old daughter Gianna — was cut tragically short in January this year, was one of the Japanese tennis player’s biggest mentors.

During her latest successful US Open title run — which culminated in a three-set victory over Victoria Azarenka on Saturday — Osaka says she was still drawing on Bryant’s support.

In the social media post that went along with the image, Osaka wrote she wore Bryant’s jersey “every day after my matches” throughout the tournament.

“I truly believe it gave me strength. Always,” she wrote on Twitter.

The post was not the first time Osaka has referenced Bryant’s influence on her career.

Osaka retweeted a Nike post celebrating Kobe’s birthday last month where she shared her memories of the father of four.

“I was hitting with him once and he just kept trash talking me as if he was the greatest tennis player alive.

“It was just funny to hear him say he was going to go practice tennis after we’d finished hitting.

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“He’d have to practice for ten-hundred years.”

Osaka’s Bryant jersey wasn’t the piece of clothing that originally drew the most attention during the tournament.

Making a strong political statement before each of her matches, Osaka wore black face masks which bore the name of black men and women killed by racially-fuelled violence in America.

Naomi Osaka wears a black mask with the name of Ahmaud Arbery written in white, capital letters
Naomi Osaka wears a black mask with the name of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man killed in February 2020.(AP: Seth Wenig)

Her background as a prominent black Asian female athlete from a mixed-race, immigrant family living in America meant she wanted to be part of the conversation dividing the US.

This commitment to social justice in the US, along with her success, has seen her garner the support of another basketball great.

Less than two hours before playing the Houston Rockets in the NBA playoffs, current Los Angeles Laker LeBron James tweeted to Osaka, congratulating her on her US Open win.

“GREAT COMEBACK!! Congrats,” James posted.

Adding a raised-fist emoji to the end of his tweet, James saluted Osaka’s efforts to bring awareness to the current racial tensions in the US.

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