The tragic death of Kobe Bryant defined this unprecedented season for the Los Angeles Lakers, ending with the franchise’s 17th NBA championship.
L.A. never hid the team tried to channel Bryant’s Mamba Mentality to fire themselves up for the pursuit of the long-awaited title in the Orlando bubble.
From watching a tribute video honoring the five-time champion’s legacy to wearing the special “Black Mamba” jerseys, the Lakers wanted to make sure the franchise legend accompanied them on this journey, at least spiritually.
But perhaps no one wanted to honor Bryant’s memory more than the franchise’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka.
The 50-year-old executive served as agent for most of the legend’s career and grew so close to his family he was the godfather of Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, who died with his dad in the helicopter crash in January.
“Kobe’s voice is always in my head. Always,” Pelinka said after the Lakers lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy on Sunday.
“There would be times in my hotel room here, when you’re in a bubble for a hundred days, it’s tough,” he added, visibly moved. “There would be times in the middle of the night, I would hear his voice, ‘Stay the course. Finish the task.’”
Pelinka, his eyes closing as he choked back tears, then opened up on his long-lasting friendship with Bryant who, the Lakers GM said, told him he was the right man to bring glory days back to L.A.
“To be able to have a friend who changed my life and helped me understand what greatness was about and sacrifice was about, there’s not many greater gifts,” Pelinka said.
“To be able to share this moment right now, knowing that he and Gianna are looking down from heaven, and I know he’s a proud friend. When I took the job, I remember he said, ‘Hey, I know what you did for me for 20 years.’
“He said, ‘I’ll give you two, three years, you’ll fix this. You’ll get the Lakers back on top.’ Pelinka looked skyward before adding, “I guess you were right, man. You gave me the energy to do it.”
Davis: Bryant had confidence in this Lakers team
Anthony Davis was among the many players who took inspiration from Bryant and his illustrious career. And the forward was certain his former mentor was “super proud” of the team’s championship, adding the Lakers legend had been optimistic about L.A. ‘s title chances this season.
“Before the tragedy, he would come to the game and just tell us, ‘This is y’all year. This is y’all year. Go out and take it.’” Davis said. “He had a lot of confidence in our team. He had a lot of confidence in our organization to go out there and win it this year.”
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