If there’s one tennis player that many observers of the sport would like to gain some insight on right now, it would have to be Naomi Osaka. The current world No. 8 provided some with an appearance on “The Shop,” an HBO Max show produced by NBA superstar LeBron James.

This episode, hosted by Paul Rivera and Maverick Carter, longtime business partners and friends of James, also featured comedian and actor Wanda Sykes, rapper Jadakiss, and James’ former teammate and fellow All-Star Kevin Love. The premise of the show, now in its fourth season, is to bring together celebrities from different fields to chop it up on a variety of issues.

Common ground can be found, though, as Osaka spoke on an NBA connection of her own that had a huge impact on her career.

“I was really lucky to have Kobe [Bryant] as my mentor and I really loved everything that he passed down to me,” she said. The four-time Grand Slam champion also mentioned that she would like to play a role similar to the one Bryant played with her.

“I always feel like if there was a younger player that ever needed any advice from me, I would love to give it. If I were to retire from tennis,” she said.

“I would want people to remember me like how I acted toward people and how I interacted. For example, Serena? Her legacy is more than being Serena,” Osaka added. “I started playing because of her, I’m sure there’s so many girls that started playing because of her. Like, she literally built champions. And I think passing it down is how the new generation gets inspired.”


She was also able to offer the panel some insider knowledge on the life of a professional tennis, from travel to on-court coaching. And when the talk turned to social media, Osaka said that she feels “it’s given people the chance to say things that they would never say to you in person. I feel like it just gives people access to you in a way that I feel like, a couple of years ago, people would have to come up to you to affect you that way.”

Sitting among some dynamic personalities in their respective fields, Osaka more than held her own. When Carter asked her if she felt like a lot was thrown her way after her US Open win, Osaka had the perfect reply.

“I’m really not trying to be an a-hole, but which time?” That response drew some applause and Sykes-worthy laughs of appreciation.

She did add that she “felt really overwhelmed in that situation. It was a bit weird because after I won the US Open that first time, I had to immediately play another tournament, so I didn’t really have to face the business stuff until the end of the year. And by then, I was just so happy to be getting deals and stuff.

“I also felt like I didn’t compromise my integrity that much, at all,” she added. “Though I would say it’s a bit wild when you feel like people start knowing who you are overnight over one event. It’s honestly taken me two years to adjust from that.”

Osaka added that while she gets a lot of personal satisfaction from her outside endeavors, tennis is, of course, still important, as she touched on her past, present and future in the sport. After her earlier-than-expected loss at the US Open, the two-time winner left some doubts on when she’d return to the court, but indicated a return could be near.

“I want to feel like I’m playing for myself. And I started to feel like that power was being taken away from me in the way that I felt like I wasn’t playing to make myself happy and I was more concerned about like, if I won or lost, what would people say about me,” she said. “And I just used to love like the competition and just being competitive. If I were to play a long match, the longer it was, the more fun it was for me. And then I just started to feel, like recently, the longer it was, the more stressed out I became.

“But I just needed a break to go within myself and reclaim what was it that [provided motivation],” she added. “You know, I’ve been playing tennis since I was 3 years old; for sure I love the sport, I know I’m going to play again. Probably soon, because I kind of have that itch again, but it wouldn’t really matter to me if I won or lost. I’d just have the joy of being back on the court, just to … know that I’m doing it for myself.”