Rob Pelinka Chokes Back Tears Talking About Kobe Bryant After Lakers Win Championship

Melissa Rohlin

Rob Pelinka paused, choking back tears. 

After the Lakers won their first NBA championship in 10 years on Sunday, he recalled a conversation he had with Kobe Bryant in which the superstar told him he believed he'd turn the franchise around in two to three years.  

Pelinka then looked up. And addressed Bryant directly.  

"I guess you were right, man," he said. "You give me the energy to do it."

The Lakers hired Pelinka as general manager in March, 2017. He took over a storied franchise that was in the midst of its worst lull in history, an unprecedented six-season playoff drought. 

But Bryant believed in him. 

Pelinka was Bryant's longtime agent, overseeing the career of the five-time NBA champion, who won two Finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP in 2008. They were close friends. They traveled together with their families. Bryant even named Pelinka the godfather of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

As Pelinka celebrated the franchise's record-tying 17th title, he credited Bryant for guiding him to that moment. 

"When you're in a bubble for a hundred days, it's tough," he said. "There would be times in the middle of the night, I would hear his voice: 'Stay the course. Finish the task.' 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."

After Bryant and Gianna died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, Pelinka said in a statement that "there has been an amputation of part of my soul."

Less than a month later, he spoke at their public memorial at Staples Center on Feb. 24, providing intimate details of their friendship and shared vacations. There was the time they went "glamping" in Montana and Bryant insisted everyone fly fish in weighted boots, not allowing anyone to take any shortcuts. Or the time Bryant spent their trip to Cabo pouring over game footage of Gianna playing basketball and insisting Pelinka add analysis.

They had been through so much together. And Pelinka didn't know how to go on without him. 

“The day after Kobe was gone, I was at home and feeling totally lost," Pelinka said at the memorial. "I couldn’t imagine life without the strength and guidance of my best friend."

After joining the Lakers as an executive, Pelinka would often use Bryant as inspiration. 

That became especially clear during free agency last summer when the team didn't acquire a superstar free agent, but went on to build a championship-caliber team around LeBron James and Anthony Davis anyway.  

"Kobe was such a great mentor of me in terms of he always talked about his counters," Pelinka said. "You know, like in one year maybe he would dominate with a fadeaway, and so then the next year he would come back and teams would say, 'Hey, we have to take away his fadeaway,' so he would work on his spin move and attack the rim. So it was always about counters. In free agency last year, obviously we made a run to acquire a max free agent, but we had a counter, we had a backup plan, and I knew we had a way to pivot and build a team with the other players we were able to acquire. It worked out. It worked out well, obviously."

So as Pelinka wore a championship hat and basked in the fact that the franchise Bryant had poured his heart into had been restored to greatness, he knew the moment also belonged to him. 

"I think Kobe and Gianna have guided this team the entire year," he said. "Kobe's voice is always in my head. Always, every day, every minute." 

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