Golf's 15-time major winner is an ardent Los Angeles Lakers fan and paid tribute to his fellow global sporting superstar.
Woods learned of the news after completing his final round at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego on Sunday.
Bryant was one of nine people on board a helicopter that crashed at approximately 10am in Los Angeles County, California, local authorities said.
His daughter, Gianna, also died in the tragedy, the NBA announced.
Bryant, who won five NBA championships with the Lakers and piled up personal accolades, was nicknamed 'Mamba', and golf fans had been urging an oblivious Woods to produce a magical round in the basketball great's memory.
"I didn't really understand why the people were saying, 'Do it for Mamba'," Woods said.
"But now I understand. It's a shocker for everyone. I'm unbelievably sad."
Woods said Bryant was an inspiration as a player.
"He brought it each and every night on both ends of the floor," Woods told CBS. "Not too many guys can say that throughout NBA history.
"He locked up on D [defense], obviously he was dominant on the offensive side, but anytime he was in the game he'd take on their best player and just shut him down for all 48 minutes and that was one of the more impressive things I think in his entire career.
"When he ruptured his Achilles and went to the foul line and made his shots, that's tough."