It’s been clear for a long time that the late Lakers star Kobe Bryant had a high opinion of current Lakers star Anthony Davis. From making a then-19-year-old Davis one of the rare players he ever mentored during their time together at the 2012 Olympics to picking his old team to win the title as soon as they traded for Davis, Bryant made it plain that he was a big fan of the seven-footer’s game.
But it turns out Bryant was also a little more than a passive observer of Davis’ eventual reign over the league with the purple and gold. According to Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated, he actually played a role in planting the seeds that helped Davis’ arrival with the Lakers become reality:
Those summer sessions left an indelible impression on Bryant. He had never put much effort into recruiting big names to Los Angeles during his 20-year playing career, which ended in 2016. But not long after the minicamp, Kobe picked up the phone and called the godfather of his daughter Gianna—his former agent and current general manager of the Lakers, Rob Pelinka. “Hey, you know I don’t give you GM advice,” Bryant said. “But if you ever get a chance to get this guy, he is the avatar of what you want. His level of footwork, his dexterity, his mastery of the details of the game. Guys like this are generational players.”
Now look, none of this is to say that Pelinka wouldn’t have traded for Davis without Bryant’s blessing. It was clear that LeBron James — and his and Davis’ mutual agency, Klutch Sports — also wanted it to happen. Most significantly of all, the opportunity wouldn’t have been there without Davis himself desiring it.
But Bryant is someone whose opinion Pelinka valued, and it doesn’t seem out of the question to suggest that his endorsement of not just Davis’ game, but his mentality and approach to it, could have helped push Pelinka over the edge in making sure he offered everything necessary to get Davis to Los Angeles. We’ll never know how big a slice of the causal pie it was, but it probably was at least among the factors.
Bryant, sadly, never got to see how his vision for Davis in purple and gold flourished with his and the Lakers’ utter dominance in the postseason, but Lakers governor Jeanie Buss — who knew Bryant well and also leaned on his advice — said the team would have made him “proud” during their playoff run. The other half of Bryant’s most dominant duo, Shaquille O’Neal, recently echoed that sentiment to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
“After all that we went through [in 2020], it was a good ending for them to win the championship,” O’Neal said. “I am sure if [Bryant] was still here, he would definitely be proud and showing his love and support on social media.”
We’ll never see what that praise would have looked like, but we know Davis has to be pleased to hear as much, considering how often he mentioned that the Lakers were playing for Bryant during their run to the title. And considering how much Bryant enjoyed winning, he’d probably be just as pleased about how right Davis proved him, one more time.