Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers won an NBA championship for the first time since 2010; the year Kobe Bryant got his revenge over the Boston Celtics. This season, they’ll be looking to repeat as champions, which they also haven’t done since 2010. Bryant won the Finals MVP in both 2009 and 2010.
If they’re able to accomplish their goal, it will be in large part thanks to Rob Pelinka, who served as Bryant’s agent before taking over as the Lakers’ general manager in 2017. Bryant lived to see Pelinka live out his dream, which he first shared with Bryant in 2003, but Bryant didn’t get to see his longtime friend reach the top of the mountain in October because he died nine months prior on Jan. 26, 2020.
However, while Bryant wasn’t with Pelinka physically, Magic Johnson believes Bryant was with him in spirit, and he’s made a conscious effort to remind his former colleague of that since Bryant’s passing, as he told Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview:
After the Lakers won their 17th NBA championship in October, capping a season dedicated to Bryant, Johnson and Rob Pelinka, the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager, spoke about how proud Bryant would be at this accomplishment.
And after Pelinka added meaningful new pieces in Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews and Montrezl Harrell to the Lakers’ roster this season, Johnson and Pelinka talked again about how Bryant would approve.
“I just told Rob, ‘Hey, man, can you imagine what Kobe would have said to you making all these moves?’ Rob said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ I said, ‘Man, he would have been so proud of you and how you rebuilt the Lakers,’” Johnson said of Pelinka, who was Bryant’s longtime agent before joining the organization. “We had said that after the championship, and then I just told him that after he had completed the team.
“I always give him little notes that say, ‘Kobe is looking down on you, man, saying he’s happy and he’s proud of you.’ And I often think about how that was Rob’s go-to guy, like I’m sure it was the same way for Kobe. You always think about Kobe in some kind of way.”
Johnson and Pelinka didn’t always see eye-to-eye during their time in the Lakers’ front office, and their fallout after Johnson’s resignation was reflective of that, but it seems that time and the tragedy that was Bryant’s death has brought them back together. Given what they both mean to the team’s rich history, that’s good news for the Lakers.
Johnson’s right, too: Bryant would have been proud of the roster Pelinka put together this offseason. Bryant (and his late daughter, Gianna) liked the team last year, too, and Pelinka could have ran it back with the same roster that won him a championship last season. Instead, he used every avenue he possibly could to get better — complacency wasn’t an option.
Sound familiar? It should.