Alex Rodriguez Talks Friendship With Kobe Bryant: He Was 'Entering the Prime of His Life' (Exclusive)
Alex Rodriguez is still hurting over the death of his friend, Kobe Bryant.
The NBA star died on Sunday due to a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that killed 9 victims total, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Rodriguez was personal friends with Bryant and talked to ET on Thursday about their close friendship outside of the public eye.
"You know, I still can't get my head around it," Rodriguez tells ET's Nischelle Turner about Bryant's death. "It's such a cruel thing. Timing never been worse, I mean, 41. Here's a guy that was entering the prime of his life, Gianna, who I knew well, Vanessa and his whole family, you know, but also to mention the other victims on the helicopter."
Rodriguez recalled his last moments with Bryant, including when he attended his fiancee, Jennifer Lopez's, last show in Vegas as part of her residency.
"From a personal point of view, I was just texting with Kobe about my New Year's party in L.A," he shares. "He came to Jennifer's last show. We had such a quiet friendship and Kobe was like that with so many. He whispered in your ear. He never wanted credit. He was the toughest human being I've ever met, but one of the kindest, and one of the smartest, and he came on my podcast last year and I just love him to death. He was like a younger brother and he inspired me and I learned so much from him. My prayers go out for him and Vanessa and obviously all of Lakers nation."
Bryant was well known for his extreme dedication and work ethic, and Rodriguez also talked about seeing the NBA icon's desire to learn as much as he could about any subject that interested him firsthand.
"You know, Kobe was always very inquisitive," he says. "He had a thirst for information. It didn't matter if he was talking about football, basketball, baseball, he would ask me about Jennifer's routines. He never cared about what happened in front of the lights. He always cared about what happened behind the curtains and he taught me so much about nutrition, about lifting, about being tough, about not forgetting. He would always say, 'Don't forget who the f**k you are, you're A-Rod. Don't forget who the eff you are, you're A-Rod.'"
Rodriguez later shared the endearing advice Bryant would give him about baseball.
'And get your hands up, get your hands up,'" he recalls of Bryant's advice for him when it came to his hitting stance. "I said, 'Now Kobe, now Kobe, I love you, you're the greatest, don't tell me how to hit.' He was something else. I said, 'You know a lot of things, you don't know anything about hitting.'"
"But he's in a better place and he's looking over us and he'd want us to go on and have that mamba mentality," he adds. "Go out and compete, go out and be a great thing, and the thing that I love the most where him and I were connected at the heart is our girls... He was an amazing, amazing father, always present for them and that's something I always looked up to."
On Thursday, Lopez also spoke about Bryant's death at a press conference in Miami ahead of her and Shakira's highly anticipated Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show on Sunday.
"Alex came to me with tears in his eyes, and he's like, 'You're not going to believe what happened.' He was devastated. He knew Kobe really well," she shared. "They kind of came up together, entered sports around the same time, and he was just devastated. I knew Kobe and Vanessa more in passing. He had come to my last show in Vegas -- the both of them -- as a date night and we had a beautiful night that night."
"I think it's affecting everybody so much because it's just reminding us, again, how fragile life is and how we have to appreciate every single moment and how we have to love people while they're here and not wait," she continued. "And how we don't get the opportunity -- it can be taken away from us so easily."
On Sunday, Rodriguez shared photos with Bryant over the years on Instagram with an emotional message.
"We met as teenagers," he wrote. "We followed similar paths. We went from high school to the pros and our baby girls grew up together. People don't know this, but he was my secret coach. He pushed me and motivated me, especially toward the end of my career when I needed him most. He was always there. Even after our playing days, he was there for me. He attended @Jlo's last show in Vegas. He appeared on TheCorp podcast."
"I last saw him a few months ago," he continued. "I will remember what he told me about how much he loved Vanessa and his girls, and that he continued to say no to 99 percent of offers, choosing instead to spend as much time with his family as possible. I will remember his greatness. I will remember his guidance. I will remember his friendship. I will remember that he made me a better person. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was following in her Dad’s footsteps. She was kind, smart, caring and going to be a star. Rest in peace, Kobe. Rest in peace, GiGi. My heart and prayers go out to the Bryant family and the passengers’ families."
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My heart hurts so much right now. I still can't wrap my head around this. How can it be? . I learned so much from Kobe Bryant. He was naturally gifted, but had a passion for basketball like no one else I've ever seen. His work ethic was impeccable and his stress on mastering the fundamentals is what elevated him to the player he was. I've never met anyone more focused with a myopic approach. He didn't pursue approval, affirmation or adulation. He pursued excellence and process. He followed my career and would often call to help with my health, daily routine ... and would even chime in about hitting techniques. He was a role model to me, and millions around the world. . We met as teenagers. We followed similar paths. We went from high school to the pros and our baby girls grew up together. People don't know this, but he was my secret coach. He pushed me and motivated me, especially toward the end of my career when I needed him most. He was always there. Even after our playing days, he was there for me. He attended @Jlo's last show in Vegas. He appeared on TheCorp podcast. . I last saw him a few months ago. I will remember what he told me about how much he loved Vanessa and his girls, and that he continued to say no to 99 percent of offers, choosing instead to spend as much time with his family as possible. . I will remember his greatness. I will remember his guidance. I will remember his friendship. I will remember that he made me a better person. . His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was following in her Dad’s footsteps. She was kind, smart, caring and going to be a star. . Rest in peace, Kobe. Rest in peace, GiGi. My heart and prayers go out to the Bryant family and the passengers’ families.
ET spoke with Rodriguez in Miami on Thursday as he was gearing up for his Fox Super Bowl Pregame coverage alongside football icon Dan Marino, which starts at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. Rodriguez shared what he also learned from the legendary Miami Dolphins quarterback, particularly when he met Marino when he was just 13 years old. The former baseball pro said he got the courage to go up to him to get a football signed at a mall.
"He put his arm around me and he goes, 'Man, you're a good-looking kid, you're gonna do big things in this world,'" he recalls about his interaction with Marino. "I gotta tell you, I came home and I told my mom, 'Mom, I'm gonna do big things because my hero told me I could do big things.' Dan has always been one of the guys I've loved forever."
"It reminds me of the power that we have, and the platform that we sit in," Rodriguez reflects about the unforgettable moment. "And we can take that power and do a lot of good with it. And just the power of words, the power of taking that extra moment -- not just signing, but making the eye contact, and just a few encouraging words -- my goodness, it can go so long for the next generation."
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