The Los Angeles Lakers icon was traveling in a private helicopter alongside 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people when it crashed on Sunday, killing everyone on board.
Nicholson is a well-known Lakers fan and has held courtside seats at their games for many years.
Speaking to sports broadcaster Jim Hill, Nicholson said: “My reaction is the same as almost all of L.A. — suddenly where everything was solid there’s a big hole. I was so used to seeing and talking to Kobe ... it just kills you — it’s just a terrible event.
“I remember him as so talented and how great a player he was.
“I teased him the first time we met. I offered him a basketball and asked him did he want me to autograph it for him. He looked at me like I was crazy.”
Asked about Bryant’s sense of humor, Nicholson responded: “He got all the jokes, that’s for sure.”
After making his last film appearance in 2010’s How Do You Know and his last TV appearance in 2016, Nicholson has become an increasingly reclusive figure.
Although he told the Sun in 2013 he hasn’t retired from acting, he admitted he had retired from hitting on women. He pulled out of the English-language remake of German comedy Toni Erdmann in 2018 and has not committed to any other acting projects since.
He said of watching Bryant: “I sat right behind his jump shot on the left-hand side I could see him going up and I could tell in the first instance if it was in.
“We’ll think him all the time and we’ll miss him — he was just one of those touched people.”
Loving tributes have been pouring in for 41-year-old Bryant from the worlds of sport, entertainment and politics.
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