Lakers GM Rob Pelinka Mourns Deaths of 'Best Friend' Kobe Bryant and 'Sweet Goddaughter' Gianna
On Thursday, Pelinka, who serves as Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, released an emotional statement about the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed Kobe, Gianna and seven more victims in Calabasas, California.
“I lost my best friend and my sweet goddaughter. With that, there has been an amputation of part of my soul,” began Pelinka, 50, who left Landmark Sports Agency to join the Lakers organization in 2017.
“Kobe was a force of nature, deep and obsessed with excellence. He was wise, determined, passionate. A visionary beyond measure. A dedicated and loving husband, and a ‘girl-dad’ like no other,” he continued. “When he walked into a room, the energy ignited. He was high voltage, with a motor that had no limits. His mind had an infinite capacity to learn. He was, simply put, the most inspirational athlete of our time. What the world may not know, is that he was also the best friend anyone could ever imagine.”
Pelinka, who is a father of two, also shared loving words for his goddaughter Gianna.
“Gigi was pure joy. Her smile brought comfort to any and every occasion. She was brilliant, kind and warm. And, like her dad, when she stepped onto the basketball court, she took on an entirely different nature, and boy could she play,” he wrote. “Her basketball destiny was apparent, and the world knew it. She was also an extraordinary, loyal and supportive sister, and a wonderful friend to my children. My son and daughter always left time with Gigi feeling better about life itself. Everything Gigi stood for, I am so proud of.”
Kobe and Gigi are survived by Vanessa Bryant, 37, as well as Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri. The father-daughter pair were two of nine victims killed in the crash, along with John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
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Quoting late author Maya Angelou (“When great trees fall … lions hunker down in tall grasses”), Pelinka continued: “What I am daily learning is that after the tragic loss of these nine souls, life on this side of eternity will never be the same. For any of us who knew them, there is an irreplaceable void left behind. But I am also finding that there is a hope. For now, each new step for me will be full of deep love and prayers, as a heavy sorrow for Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and all the families involved, is slowly redeemed into something healed and new. I am coming to realize that nothing can separate any of us from the love and inspiration we’ve received from Kobe and Gianna, nothing at all.”
And Pelinka, who was present at the team’s practice on Wednesday, concluded his tribute with a hopeful message. “Their lives have shown me that death has no victory. Last Sunday is not the end of the story. It’s just a new beginning. Kobe and Gigi’s legacies will live on – and gain even more power and influence. All of us touched by them will now try to become torch carriers of their legacies,” he wrote, adding, “And, while we do that, we can be certain of this: Kobe and Gigi will continue on, forever, playing a joy-filled game of basketball in heaven above.”
Pelinka’s statement was released on the same day as Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss, who broke her silence on Instagram.
Buss — who took over as owner of the Lakers following the death of her father, Jerry Buss, in 2013 — reflected on Bryant’s importance to her family and to the franchise he called home for 20 years.
“Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers. My father loved you like a son, which makes us family,” she wrote in the post, which included a picture of herself and the Bryant family on the way to the NBA All-Star Game in 2016.
Bryant and Buss knew each other for more than two decades. After Bryant was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft, he soon became a Laker as her father approved a trade for him that day. Buss has held multiple executive roles with the team throughout her career.
One day prior to Buss and Pelinka’s statements, widow Vanessa Bryant made her first public statements.
Speaking to fans and followers about the loss of her “adoring” husband and their “beautiful, sweet” daughter Gianna, the mother of four wrote, “We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately. There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” adding, “I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
Vanessa continued: “I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.”
In her statement, she also announced that the Mamba Sports Foundation set up the MambaOnThree Fund to “help support the other families affected by this tragedy.”