Players and fans alike cheered Kobe Bryant late Sunday night as his former team celebrated an NBA title, more than eight months after the basketball icon’s tragic passing.
Chants of “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!” filled the night air near Staples Center, downtown home of the Los Angeles Lakers, in the wake of their 106-93 triumph over the Miami Heat, securing the franchise’s 17th title.
The outburst of purple and gold joy was tempered by both the coronavirus, which forced the NBA to play 2 1/2 months of basketball behind closed doors in central Florida, and the lingering sadness of Bryant’s sudden passing in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
The accident killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gigi and seven others.
“Go Lakers! Wish Kobe and Gigi were here to see this,” the late basketball star’s wife Vanessa Bryant wrote on Instagram with a picture of Kobe Bryant and L.A. General Manager Rob Pelinka.
“Congratulations Uncle P! Congratulations @lakers Kobe was right, RP!” she continued. “Stay the course – block out the noise.”
At one point in a post-game meeting with reporters, Pelinka struggled to break a smile as he described thinking of Bryant while he and other NBA employees were locked in the league’s bubble for three months.
“There would be times in the middle of the night I’d hear his voice, ‘Stay the course, finish the task,’ ” said Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent.
“To be able to have a friend who changed my life and helped me understand what greatness was about and (what) sacrifice was about, there’s not many greater gifts.”
Lakers President Jeanie Buss and star center Anthony Davis both spoke lovingly of Bryant during the trophy presentation ceremony.
And backup Lakers guard Quinn Cook early Monday morning paid a simple tribute to Bryant, posting a picture of late hoops superstar holding then-toddler child, Gigi.
“We love you!” Cook wrote.
Only @Lakers duos to win the NBA Finals while both averaging 25+ PPG in the postseason:
LeBron James (27.6 in 2020)
Anthony Davis (27.7 in 2020)
Shaquille O’Neal (36.3 in 2002)
Kobe Bryant (26.8 in 2002)
In two of those the Lakers’ 17 world titles, only twice did two L.A. players average more than 25 points per game throughout the postseason – Davis and NBA Finals MVP LeBron James in this tournament and the dynamic duo of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 2002.
The NBA Finals MVP award is named after all-time Boston Celtics great Bill Russell and he posted a short video congratulating James.
The tweet included hashtags #ForKobeAndGigi and #MambaOut, shouting out Bryant’s nickname “Black Mamba.” Russell wore a hat with a purple “KB” inside a gold heart.