Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was announced as a posthumous inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday morning, an honor that was a foregone conclusion, but a bittersweet one because of Bryant not being around to see it.
Lakers governor Jeanie Buss and vice president, basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka — the former of whom saw Bryant grow from the 17-year-old the Lakers drafted to a 41-year-old father of four, and the latter of whom was one of his best friends and former agent — both spoke in the team’s press release on the honor about what Bryant’s induction means to them shortly after the news became official:
“No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,” said Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss. “Kobe was not only a proven winner and a champion, he gave everything he had to the game of basketball. His fierce competitiveness, work ethic and drive were unmatched. Those qualities helped Kobe lead us to five titles – and have now brought him to the Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined with the greatest to have ever played the game. No one deserves it more.”
“Kobe was always one to downplay his professional accomplishments – MVPs, NBA championships, gold medals, Oscars, and on and on and on,” said Lakers Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka. “But all of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honor is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate. The highest of congratulations to you, dear friend. This one is so well deserved — for all the hard work, sweat and toil. Now, a part of you will live in the Hall with the rest of the all-time greats, where your legend and spirit will continue to grow forever.”
Both are right, and Buss is 100% accurate when she said that it’s impossible to capture in words what Bryant meant to the Lakers. Either you’re a Lakers fan, and you get it, or you’re not, and you don’t. For 20 years, Kobe WAS the Lakers. The team still reflects his image in both the qualities they value in players, and in the structure of the organization. From Bryant’s best friend serving as their top basketball executive to Buss deciding to fire her brother in part as a result of Bryant’s advice, it’s clear he had an outsized impact on the way the team was shaped, even in retirement.
That doesn’t necessarily make him unique among stars — take Bryant’s fellow honoree, Tim Duncan, whose Spurs very much reflect Duncan’s qualities — but it is a testament to the level of influence Bryant was able to wield as a result of how much he meant to this team. It also means that if they win a title over the next few years, whether this season is continued, or in the future, that will be a small reflection of Bryant, too.
Bryant may be gone, but he still truly is with the team in spirit, something to take heart in as the organization tries to move forward in the wake of everything it has dealt with this year. The man who called himself “The Black Mamba” may not be here, but his vaunted mentality still lives on in the cellular structure of this team. At some point, whenever basketball is back, we’ll see how much more winning that can help carry them to.