Charles Barkley says the 1-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death is hitting him pretty hard -- explaining, "It was like a death in my family."
"I’ve known Kobe his whole life" Barkley told "Ellen" on the episode that airs Friday ... "So, I've been around him for 30 years. So he was like part of my family."
Kobe -- along with 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 others -- passed away in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, almost 1 year ago.
Barkley told Ellen the NBA is a tight-knit community where players and staff become really close over the years ... "And any time someone on the NBA dies, it's painful."
As for Kobe, "He was a great kid, he was obviously one of the greatest basketball players ever," Charles said ... "But, you know when people die young, that's what hurts me."
"If you get to be a certain age and die, if you had a great life [that's one thing] ... but when you die really young, it just really sucks. Especially for his wife and his kids."
Barkley also wanted to pay his respects to the other 7 people on the helicopter -- saying, "There are other families who lost loved ones and I want to give them my thoughts and prayers [on the 1 year anniversary of the crash]."
RIP Kobe, Gigi, Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, John Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester and Ara Zobayan.