On an emotional Monday morning in Los Angeles, family, friends, teammates, colleagues and fans gathered to celebrate the life of Kobe Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, who perished tragically with seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26.
Throughout his decorated 20-year NBA career, Bryant repeatedly demonstrated his attributes went far beyond the natural gifts that led to his creation of the alter ego, The Black Mamba. He was: an athlete who strived to be the best for himself, his Los Angeles Lakers’ teammates and his city; a leader who embraced carrying the weight of expectations on his shoulders; a businessman who wasn’t afraid to take risks in arenas that didn't involve dunks and jump shots; and a family man who was devoted to being a hero for his four daughters. This was Kobe.
During Monday’s memorial service at the Staples Center, Bryant’s long-time agent and current Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka painted a portrait of the man behind the No. 8 and 24 jerseys. In one personal anecdote, Pelinka, who played basketball at the University of Michigan, alluded to sharing the court with Bryant—one with a different surface and use of nets.
The two played tennis frequently in nearby Newport Beach, but it was the sports executive, not the global icon, who progressed faster with his racquet skills. As one would expect, Bryant didn’t accept that fact for long.
“So what is the Black Mamba doing the next few times I arrived at the club? There he was waiting for me already with a full sweat,” Pelinka said.
“As his tennis skills exploded, I learned that he had secretly reached out to the club's pro for private lessons and then didn't share any of them with me. Typical Mamba mentality. We loved our matches and stories and memories we would share on those beautiful California days.”
These matches were more than a competitive outlet for the duo to relish. They provided quality time to talk about not just the challenges of the new sport they had taken on, but life. As Pelinka would disclose, it was on the tennis court where he learned about the ambition closest to Bryant’s heart.
“It was during one of those tennis conversations that the other newfound competitive love of his became so clear. Coaching Gianna’s youth basketball team. Kobe talked constantly about his dream to create the best youth girls basketball team on the planet. And he did,” Pelinka reflected.
“It started with his individual work with Gigi and quickly spread to all the girls on Team Mamba long practices every night. Precision everything, the individual drills the set plays the triangle cuts the defensive schemes. It was all Kobe’s masterpiece.”
Last month, Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios paid tribute to Kobe and Gianna at the Australian Open.