A wave of high-profile footballers and football clubs paid their respects to Kobe Bryant after the NBA legend’s tragic death on Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and many others took to social media shortly after the devastating news broke to express their shock and sadness.
Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho also paid tribute to Bryant, who met the Barcelona duo during the mid-2000s.
Bryant loved football from a young age and became an AC Milan fan after a brief spell living in Italy during his early years.
Later in life, he developed a soft spot for Barça after becoming friends with both Ronaldinho and then Messi.
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In a clip that has gone viral on Twitter following Bryant’s death, the LA Lakers icon can be seen talking about the moment he was told Messi would become the greatest footballer of all time.
Speaking in Spanish, Bryant explained: “A long time ago, Barcelona came to Los Angeles. Ronaldinho was a friend of mine; I was speaking to him. He told me, ‘Kobe, look, I’m going to introduce you to the player who will be the best player of all time.’”
A shocked Bryant replied: “What? You are the best.”
But Ronaldinho had already seen enough from the Argentine teenager to convince him this kid was something extraordinary.
“He told me, ‘No, this guy here will be better.’
“It was Lionel Messi. He was only 17 years old. He was little.”
Watch the clip here…
How right the Brazilian was.
Ronaldinho, who is considered by many as one of the most talented footballers of all time, knew Messi possessed the ability to surpass his (and everybody else’s) achievements and wasn’t afraid to tell people about it.
Messi and Bryant would later film an advert together for Turkish Airlines, which you can watch here…
“We’re the same, Messi and I,” Bryant once said in an interview with ESPN. “As people, in the way that we speak, we are different – he’s a very reserved person – but we are the same in the love that we feel for our sports.”
In another interview, Bryant added: “I think he’s one of the best athletes of all time. The tenacity, the intelligence with which he plays, as well as skill, puts him head and shoulder above the rest.”
The respect was clearly mutual. Following Bryant’s death, Messi posted on social media: “I have no words… all my love for Kobe’s family and friends. It was a pleasure to meet you and share good times together. You were a genius like few others.”