Kobe Bryant is awestruck by a former Lakers star who rivals him -- Magic Johnson ... telling TMZ Magic's support of his gay son is a lesson everyone, including pro athletes, should learn.
TMZ broke the story ... Magic and Cookie are 100% behind their son, EJ, who is openly gay. Kobe tells us ... "Of course Magic is supportive of and loves his son. Why should anyone be surprised?"
Kobe says, "What I can't tolerate is a lack of tolerance."
The strong implication -- tolerance is not just limited to parents and their kids, but to pro athletes whose teammates may soon come out of the closet.
In case you aren't reading between the lines -- given Kobe's stature, his statement could have a huge impact on athletes coming out.