The Lakers are the only family run organization in the NBA. The deep grief in Los Angeles and around the world is reflective of how Dr. Buss wanted the organization to be perceived. From my family to yours. Despite the 2 billion dollar valuation of the team, the Buss family has always been insistent on embracing family as their team identity. So, all of this feels personal.
For Jeanie Buss, it’s been one loss after another. Her mother died in the beginning of December, leaving her bereft, absent mother and father. Then another wound. David Stern, a man she respected, admired, and was close to, particularly after her father died, suffered a massive stroke that took his life. Stern’s funeral was last Tuesday. Five days later one of her closest friends died in a helicopter crash. Always active on social media, Jeanie has been silent about what Kobe meant to her, though it was apparent when she gave him that golden parachute extension of $50 million dollars in 2013. She never walked it back or voiced regret, in fact the opposite. She was defiant and resolute.
Rob Pelinka, Lakers GM, is one of Kobe Bryant’s best friends. That he is Lakers GM at all is because of his friendship with Bryant. Kobe convinced Magic Johnson that Pelinka was the right guy to steer the Lakers ship out of a morass of mediocrity and failure and into excellence. Pelinka is also Gianni Bryant’s godfather. Pelinka is deeply religious but even for the devout this is a tough one to handle.
Lou Williams played with Kobe during his last season and on various podcasts has told funny but typical Kobe stories. Like in the locker room once Kobe looked the team up and down and said something to the effect of you know what to do. Give the effing ball to me. Williams asked that the post media session be cancelled after the Clippers played Orlando on Sunday. He was in despair.
Doc Rivers coached against Bryant too many times to count and was witness to Bryant’s exceptionalism. Rivers leaned on Tom Thibodeau to create a defense to stop Kobe in the 2008 NBA Finals. In the last game of the 2010 Finals, and absent Thibs who was coaching the Bulls, Doc was witness to a hobbled Bryant grabbing more rebounds than any of Doc’s players. Kobe pushed the Lakers out of a deficit and won Game 7 and the title. That loss thrust Doc into extreme distress; he had the Lakers championship banners covered up just so he wouldn’t have to see what he lost.
Ty Lue has Kobe’s 81 point game on tape and nestled in his safety deposit box. He has Kobe shoes and Shaq shoes in his office. He has a Lakers room in his house with all the jersey’s hanging on the wall. He has a special affinity for Jerry West who drafted him. Lue’s front row seat to Kobe-Shaq had his boss Doc Rivers worried about Lue. On Sunday, he sobbed on the bench. He has repeatedly said how much the Lakers mean to him.