As he wore a championship hat that covered up some of the grief that his facial expressions conveyed, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka looked up toward the heavens and exhaled.
It has been a painful 8½ months since former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash. After the Lakers finished with a 106-93 win over the Miami Heat on Sunday in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, however, Pelinka had two reasons to smile.
One, the Lakers won their 17th NBA championship and their first since 2010. Second, Pelinka lived up to Bryant’s prediction that Pelinka would help turn the franchise around within two to three years after the Lakers hired him in 2017.
"I guess you were right, man," Pelinka said as he stared up above. "You give me the energy to do it."
Pelinka routinely sought that inspiration from Bryant, whom he represented as his agent for the latter half of his NBA career. Pelinka was also Gianna’s godfather. So while staying at the Gran Destino Tower in the NBA campus bubble for nearly three months, Pelinka often woke in the middle of the night and imagined hearing Bryant’s voice. Pelinka said he heard Bryant say "stay the course" and "finish the task."
The Los Angeles Lakers captured the franchise's 17th title on Sunday night and fans flocked to the streets to celebrate.
Yet, he still had informal conversations with Lakers controlling governor Jeanie Buss, Pelinka, James, Davis and Kyle Kuzma. Bryant also took Gianna to two Lakers games this season against the Atlanta Hawks (Nov. 17, 2019) and the Dallas Mavericks (Dec. 26, 2019).
"Before the tragedy, he would come to the games and tell us, 'This is your year. Go out there and take it,' " Davis said. "He had a lot of confidence in our team. He had a lot of confidence in the organization to go out there and win it this year."
Now that the Lakers fulfilled that mission, Pelinka replaced his grief with joy as he reflected on Bryant.
"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? I know he's a proud friend."
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