Long before Rob Pelinka was vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, he was Kobe Bryant's agent and best friend.
After the former NBA superstar and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash in January, Pelinka called their loss "an amputation of part of my soul," and the Lakers dedicated the rest of their season to Bryant and "Gigi."
During an interview with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Pelinka recalled conversations with both Bryant and Gigi where the two expressed their confidence the Lakers would win the championship once again. One of these chats happened just after the Lakers hired Pelinka for their general manager role in 2017.
“I remember [Bryant] looking me in the eye and saying ‘Hey, I know how you work. I know how locked in you are. I know you’re a chess player. I think you’ll have the Lakers back winning a championship in two to three years,’ " Pelinka recalled on The Woj Pod.
"I said, ‘You’ve got to be crazy,' " Pelinka continued. "I looked at him like, 'You’re crazy, but I’ll put in the work to do it.' "
Three years later, just as Bryant predicted, the Lakers beat the Miami Heat in the 2020 Finals to win their 17th NBA championship thanks to stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Pelinka was notably instrumental in bringing aboard Davis, who joined the Lakers as part of a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Earlier this season after attending a Lakers game at Staples Center, Gigi also told Pelinka that she envisioned the team winning the title.
“I remember Gigi looked at me and she said … ‘Uncle P, I’m watching this game, and I’m looking around, you guys are going to win the title this year,' " Pelinka told Wojnarowski.
"I said, ‘Well, Gigi, why do you think that?’ She goes, ‘Your defensive size and length and athleticism. In the playoffs, it’s tough to make threes, and the rim gets smaller and guys feel the pressure, and just your size, and ability to cover space and take away the rim.' She goes, 'Teams aren’t going to be able to score on you. You guys are going to win the championship,' " Pelinka continued.
Pelinka told Wojnarowski that Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant, continues to be one of his "best friends" and offered him support throughout the Lakers' playoff run.
A recent post to Vanessa's Instagram page shows Pelinka and his wife visiting her and the rest of the Bryant family.
When reflecting on Bryant during the podcast, Pelinka called the five-time NBA champion — who spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers — a real-life "superhero."
"I think we’ve all grown up with superheroes, reading the books and the comics as a kid and watching the movies, and you think about what it would be like if your best friend was actually a superhero. You dream about that, right?" Pelinka said. "I feel like mine was. He literally was this larger-than-life best friend who had an answer to every problem, had a piece of advice for anything you needed."
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