Advertisement
Lakers

Read Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s speech from Kobe Bryant memorial

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka speaks at the Kobe and Gianna Bryant memorial service at Staples Center on Monday.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka speaks at the Kobe and Gianna Bryant memorial service at Staples Center on Monday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Do you remember where you were on that foggy, sunless morning of Jan. 26 when the axis of the world seemed to shift forever, for all of us? I was in Sunday church with my family. My phone was deep in the pocket of my jeans when I felt the familiar text buzz. For a second, I ignored the notification because I was in church. For some reason, with this text, I felt a sudden urge to check my phone. I slipped it out of my jeans and discovered the text was from Kobe. There was nothing uncharacteristic or unfamiliar about this. For the last two decades, Kobe and I talked or texted every single day. Because that’s what best friends do.

“And that moment my instincts were to put the phone down and get back to the preacher’s sermon, but a gentle, otherworldly nudge compelled me to open the text, so I did. I quickly saw that Kobe was asking me if I happened to know a certain baseball agent based in Southern California. Since Kobe’s question didn’t have any urgency to it, I decided I’d wait until after church to respond, but then again there was a gentle nudge. I grabbed my phone and texted Kobe back that I’d seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night and was happy to help him with whatever you wanted.

“It was now just past 9:30. Kobe texted back, explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters. Kobe vouched for the girl’s character, intellect and work ethic. He clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her. I texted Kobe right back and said I would put a plan in motion to help him get that done. A handful of minutes later, Kobe and Gianna and seven other beautiful souls ascended into heaven. Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter. The girl in that text chain that he was wanting to help so badly was Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of coach John Altobelli, who was also on the helicopter.

“Kobe’s last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future. Hasn’t Kobe done that for all of us? Kobe was literally the best friend anyone could ask for. He always championed and passionately celebrated the accomplishments [of others] ... This was one of his greatest gifts as a friend, and there’s one story that shows this beautiful side to Kobe. As Vanessa shared, in the years following his retirement, Kobe was often one of the first carpools to pick up his daughters from school.

Advertisement

“With Kobe [on] pole position, my kids, who attended the same school, also got to see him often. Every time they would see him, he would greet them with enthusiasm as if they’d just won student of the year. The other day, my 9-year-old daughter, Emery, had big tears in her eyes, because she was so badly missing Uncle Kobe and Gigi. When I asked her why she said, ‘Daddy, whenever Kobe would see me, he would run to me and scoop me up in his giant arms and raise me high above his head. Kobe always made me feel like I was queen of the world.’

“Kobe had a depth of care for people that is unparalleled. He made every moment magical, as if living a fantasy novel. This was the case when my family and the Bryants went on a camping, or I should say glamping, trip to Montana. We canoed and rode horses, went fly fishing and river rafting and rode on a stagecoach to a campfire dinner under the stars. At each turn, Kobe made everything an adventure, especially for the kids. And of course with all the wilderness activities we did, they had to be done to the nth degree. If it was fly fishing, we had to learn to tie our own flies and fish standing in the stream with heavy weighted boots on, no shortcuts. Kobe’s enthusiasm and joy for all things made that trip one for a lifetime. Another remarkable friendship quality of Kobe’s was that he mastered the art of making the things his friends loved, the things that he loved.

“When I got the Lakers GM job, Kobe would often say that my life and his life had flip-flopped. Instead of him, I was now the one with the regimented Lakers schedule of practices, games and road trips. I was now the one commuting daily up the 405 from the O.C. to LA. On the flip side, Kobe was home chillin’ in Newport Beach, doing all this Kobe work from his favorite spot in the world. Having lived the demands of the NBA for 20 years, Kobe understood the toll it would take on my family time. So he and Vanessa would regularly check in with my wife and kids to make sure everything was good, and even celebrate holidays like Halloween with them. That’s what friends do. Kobe lived to make other people’s lives better. All the way up until his final text.

Advertisement

“The day after Kobe was gone, I was at home and feeling totally lost. I couldn’t imagine life without the strength and guidance of my best friend. As part of my grieving, I felt an overwhelming need to connect with something tangible, that represented our friendship — a picture, a voicemail, something that Kobe left behind. My wife reminded me of the book Kobe authored and had recently given to me. I went upstairs and found the book in my library and opened it, and on the inside cover, he had penned ... these words: ‘To Rob, my brother: May you always remember to enjoy the road, especially when it’s a hard one. Love, Kobe.’

“Kobe wrote these words to me just a few months ago. Now I realize that perhaps they were meant for us all. Kobe, my brother, this road is so so hard, and I don’t know how to journey on without you. But I know you want us to keep going and our memories with you will give us strength to somehow move forward. And as you wrote, even in the valley of unimaginable loss, we will somehow find a way to have joy.

“On to Kobe’s next side: Kobe the dad. When Kobe retired from playing basketball, people would often ask me how I thought he would fill this competitive drive. The answers came in a couple of surprising ways. The first was in a new sport — tennis. Right after Kobe stopped playing for the Lakers, we took up playing tennis at a local private club in Newport Beach. We began having epic one-on-one battles. I picked the game up faster than him, so early on he would often fall behind. And that did not sit well with Kobe at all.

“So what is the Black Mamba doing the next few times I arrive at the club? There he was, waiting for me, already with a full sweat. As his tennis skills exploded, I learned that he had secretly reached out to the club’s pro for private lessons and didn’t share any of them with me. Typical Mamba mentality. We loved our matches, and stories and memories we would share on those beautiful California days.

“It was during one of those tennis conversations that the other newfound competitive love of his became so clear: coaching Gianna’s youth basketball team. Kobe talked constantly about his dream to create the best youth girls’ basketball team on the planet. And he did. It started with his individual work with Gigi and quickly spread to all the girls on Team Mamba. Long practices every night. Precision everything. The individual drills, the set plays, the triangle cuts, the defensive schemes. It was all Kobe’s masterpiece.

“I will never forget when Kobe challenged my 12-year-old son’s All-Star team to a game against his Mamba team. Yes. Girls versus boys. Kobe hosted a game at a local high school gym with reps, timekeepers and all. He coached from the bench, barely said anything. Instead, the Mambas were so well prepared, they functioned like a Swiss watch. Everything seemed scripted and ... our boys got smashed.

“Kobe and Gigi took it all in stride. That’s what the Mambas do. Kobe’s love for coaching grew and grew and grew.

“I remember when Kobe turned 40. To celebrate, our families flew to Cabo to spend a long weekend at one of the most beautiful ocean estates in the world. What was the one thing Kobe wanted to do in this heavenly setting? Watch Team Mamba game film with Gigi and me, of course breaking down every play. Kobe’s love and passion for this team was the perfect representation of how deeply he loved his daughters.

Advertisement

“At the center of all this was his precious Gigi, whom my wife and I were blessed to be the godparents of. From the moment Kristen and I dressed Gigi in her pure white lace baptismal dress as an infant, she kicked and wiggled her way into our world like only a Taurus can. Gigi was an incredible combination of strength, courage, grace and dignity, with a witty sense of humor that was simply captivating. She smiled with her glittering eyes; it was literally everything in the world that is good. ...

“Gigi was love and grace. And, like her dad, her life was about blessing others. Simply put, Gigi was pride and joy on the basketball court; you could see it with every move she made. If basketball was what Kobe shared with Gigi, with Noni, Kobe shared a love for storytelling. The two of them seemed to live out scenes of the most beautiful movie ever made. ...

“Always filling a room with smiles and laughter, Kobe and Natalia had their own soundtrack for life. It seemed that in it you could often find them dancing their days away together around young children. Kobe was like Santa Claus dressed in everyday clothes. Kobe had an energy to ignite kids and make them smile and laugh and love. In my years as his agent, I was told he was one of the most-granted Make-a-Wish celebrities of our generation. When Kobe met a Make-a-Wish kid, it was as if heaven came down to the real world. ...

“Coco is a child of wonderment, every moment born out of joy and excitement, and Kobe had an ability to enter into that world with her. ... He literally had the golden touch. Watching him cuddle and put Coco to sleep, [it] made you realize just how tender Kobe was. He is literally the baby whisperer. In his arms is where you would find Coco always content and at peace. Kobe would never miss a detail of his daughter’s life when he traveled with me for work. He would spend hours on the phone, connecting and listening to the stories of their days, he just loved his girls, and there was nothing in the world that meant more to him.

“I remember being in the tunnel with Kobe right over there. The last time he wore purple and gold, Kobe fist bumped each of his daughters before he ran out the tunnel and in Mamba-speak said something like, “Here’s what you do when the world tells you you can’t do it anymore.”

“Kobe’s 60 points and win that night are only outshined by his love for his family. ... When God made Kobe, the next great act of his was to fashion Vanessa. I know this because they are matched perfectly together, and I’ve had a front row seat to bear witness to their love for 20 years. I remember all the way back to their wedding day in 2001. In typical Kobe fashion, he wanted to master every detail of that day to reflect his love for Vanessa. One of the things he was most excited about was carrying Vanessa in his arms over the threshold of their home as a husband and wife for the first time.

“Vanessa brought out Kobe’s romantic side like nobody else in the world could. He loved to celebrate holidays with her, birthdays, anniversaries and especially Valentine’s Day. Often he would call me to brainstorm his incredible ideas for special gifts and romantic occasions with her. He loved to write poems and letters to her and make them into beautiful keepsake books. Simply put, Kobe’s love for Vanessa was the energy for his life.

“One particular story captures the depth of Kobe’s love for Vanessa. There was a stretch of days when work travel was causing Kobe to be away from Vanessa for longer than he wanted. He called me to explain how hard this stretch was for him. One day on the phone, Kobe noticed there was a grand piano in the hotel suite he was staying, and he said it sat by a tall window under the moonlit sky. During one of our calls, he shared an idea with me. He said he hadn’t been sleeping much at night because he was missing seeing the girls so much. ... [So] he vowed to teach himself by ear to play [“Moonlight Sonata”]. ... When he told me this, I thought there’s no way.

Advertisement

“I knew he wasn’t a trained musician and that was a really difficult piece of music to play. But Kobe’s passion and love for Vanessa, combined with the patience and focus that only the Black Mamba has, made this seemingly impossible goal a reality that next morning Kobe called and played me the first few measures. The next morning, more. By the end of the week, you have the entire piece mastered, and he played it for me over the phone without a mistake. In my heart I knew that moment was one of Kobe’s greatest feats for his deepest love. ...

“To close I will say this. Just as the sun lights the moon to guide us through the night, Kobe and Gigi will continue to shine light on all of us. But unlike the sun, Kobe and Gigi will never, ever burn out because their light is eternal. Yes, the axis of our world shifted that frightful morning a few weeks back. But with Kobe and Gigi’s moonlight, we will never have to live in the darkness of night again. We will all journey on.

“Until one day we will be in heaven together again and this time it will be forever. I love you, dear Kobe and precious Gigi. We love you, Vanessa, Noni, BB, Coco. And we are here for you with great care, until the end of our days.”


Newsletter
All things Lakers, all the time.

Get all the Lakers news you need in Tania Ganguli's weekly newsletter.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
Advertisement