Lakers GM Rob Pelinka Says He Had Mixed Emotions After Kobe Bryant Elected To HOF

Melissa Rohlin

Rob Pelinka had to sort through a lot of feelings after Kobe Bryant was posthumously elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame on Saturday. 

"It was a moment that was full of mixed emotion," Pelinka, the Lakers' general manager and vice president of basketball relations, said in a Zoom meeting with a small group of reporters Wednesday. "I think all of us are heartbroken that he couldn’t be there to receive that moment in person. But I have a level of confidence he’s with us in spirit and still is celebrating that."

Bryant, a five-time champion over his 20 seasons with the Lakers, died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people. 

Pelinka was Bryant's longtime agent and very close friend. They went on family trips together and talked on the phone nearly every day. Bryant texted Pelinka from his helicopter moments before the crash. Days later, Pelinka said Bryant's death felt like "an amputation of part of my soul."

Pelinka pointed out that Bryant was ahead of the curve in studying and emulating the greats. After retiring in 2016, Bryant then took great joy in disseminating his knowledge to the next generation of basketball stars, including hosting an invite-only skills camp for NBA players at the Mamba Sports Academy over the summer. 

"He was one of the players I think that led the charge of really reaching out to all-time greats to try to collect wisdom and advice from them," Pelinka said. "I think back to him reaching out to Hakeem Olajuwon to have a footwork workout with him, or the countless conversations with Michael [Jordan] that have been chronicled so well over the past few weeks, to Lakers legacy and history with Magic [Johnson]. He was one of the first players, I think, to really, really tap into getting knowledge from the all-time greats and to be inspired by them. 

"And to think now that a part of him will live in the Hall of Fame, a part of his spirit will always be there. The inspiration flips, I think, from those type of players inspiring him, to now him being an inspiration to all of them and to all of us."

Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, a two-time Finals MVP and a one-time regular season MVP in 2008. 

He had so many moments of greatness. 

He famously scored 62 points in three quarters in a game against Dallas in 2005. He had a career-high 81 points in a game against Toronto in 2006. He had four consecutive games in 2007 in which he scored at least 50 points. And he made two free throws after sustaining a torn Achilles' tendon in a game against Golden State in 2013.

But Pelinka says this honor tops everything. 

"I think with this particular accomplishment, it’s one we all know he would have been incredibly proud of because it really does represent the pinnacle of his achievements as a basketball player," Pelinka said. 

Pelinka added that he's been deeply missing Bryant over the last couple of months. 

Society as we know it has come to a halt amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 12,754 people in the United States as of April 8, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 

Pelinka often tries to emulate Bryant's mentality during these trying times.  

"If you were on a knight’s journey with him and a huge fire-breathing dragon ended up in the pathway ahead, he would say, 'OK, this is why this is good right now, we’re going to meet this challenge, and here’s how we’re going to get around it, and here’s how we’re going to defeat it.'" Pelinka said of Bryant. "That was just his nature, is that obstacles or hard times would lead somehow to growth. And I think that’s the way I’m going to look at 2020, not just in terms of the loss of Kobe but just in general. I think some of these hard times we’ll have to grow through to get stronger because of them and just hold onto the future hope."