“Go Lakers!” Vanessa Bryant, Bryant’s widow and Gianna’s mother, wrote on Instagram, including an image of the Lakers star and their basketball-loving daughter from the team’s 2009 championship celebration. “Wish Kobe and Gigi were here to see this.”
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter died Jan. 26 when a helicopter carrying them and seven others crashed as they were flying to one of her basketball games.
Pau Gasol, Bryant’s former Lakers teammate and a family friend, and his wife named their newborn daughter Elisabet Gianna last month and, like Bryant, he has happily proclaimed himself a proud “Girl Dad.” “This one is for you brother, for you Gianna, for Vanessa,” he tweeted Sunday and mentioned the Bryants’ three other daughters, “for Natalia, for Bianka and for Capri.”
The Lakers reminded everyone of Bryant and Gianna throughout the Finals and ended up winning the title on National Father-Daughter Day. They wore the “Black Mamba” uniforms Bryant had a hand in designing. They broke huddles with a “1-2-3, Mamba!” chant. They wore his shoes and T-shirts and, when Anthony Davis hit a three-point buzzer-beater in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against Denver, he slapped his chest and yelled, “Kobe!”
“Kobe’s presence was magical,” Tim Harris, the Lakers’ president of business operations and chief operating officer, told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. “It was like we were playing six-on-five.”
For Davis, winning a championship was emotionally overwhelming, and the Bryant factor was a big part of it.
“Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted to do is to do it for him, and we didn’t let him down,” an emotional Davis said. ” … This is a tough moment. He was a big brother to all of us, and we did this for him.”
Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager, is close to the Bryant family and felt the influence of the former star player and his daughter throughout a pandemic-interrupted season that ended with the surreal scene in the NBA bubble.
“Kobe’s voice is always in my head, always, every day, every minute. … For us to be able to win this championship doesn’t take away the sting of the loss, but what it does is it helps us add to their legacy,” he said. “Kobe and Gianna’s legacy will last forever. It will impact lives around the world in positive ways, and this Lakers championship in 2020 is partly to build on that legacy and honor them. The moment couldn’t be any more special to do that for them.
“There would be times in my hotel room here — when you’re in a bubble for 100 days, it’s tough. There’d be times in the middle of the night, I would hear his voice: ‘Stay the course. Finish the task.’ ”
Back in Los Angeles, Lakers fans took to the streets, celebrating the championship as well as Bryant and Gianna.
Fans wore Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys, with Gianna’s No. 2 present as well. For them, the championship was personal in a different way, just as it was for the players.
“I got to compete against Kobe Bryant when I was 21,” Rajon Rondo said. “So his game and his legacy speaks for itself. Me being a kid from Louisville, Kentucky, to be able to compete with Kobe two years into the league, understand and learn so much from him by watching his film and studying his film, it’s definitely an honor.
“And to come full circle to win in his honor, his daughter’s honor, unbelievable season that we’ve had. And to be able to prevail and stay focused and continue to get the job done, I know something: He’s definitely smiling down on us. We’re able to fulfill our dream and succeed with the championship.”