There were times during the 90-plus nights the Lakers spent in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World when general manager Rob Pelinka could hear his former client Kobe Bryant whispering in his ear: "Stay the course. Finish the task."
This was former agent Pelinka describing the Lakers’ incredible journey to their 17th title after the 106-93 Game 6 win over the Heat on Sunday night. It took a long time, but the Lakers finally tied the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.
Unfortunately, part of their journey in the season of COVID-19 included the tragic helicopter crash in January that killed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Reflecting on that relationship in the Lakers’ moment of triumph, Pelinka said, "To be able to share this moment right now, knowing that he and Gianna are looking down from heaven, and I know he’s a proud friend. I know he is. When I took the job, I remember he said, ‘Hey, I know what you did for me for 20 years.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you two, three years to fix this. You’ll get the Lakers back on top.’ "
Two years ago, Pelinka signed free agent LeBron James, but the Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs in the 2018-19 season. Then, Pelinka orchestrated the trade for Anthony Davis in the summer of 2019 that gave James the second star he needed to compete for a title. Finally, he added coach Frank Vogel, a defensive guru who established the system the Lakers used to shut down the Heat and limit star Jimmy Butler to just 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting in Game 6.
After using Davis as the primary defender on Butler in the Lakers’ Game 4 win and Game 5 loss, Vogel went back to using James and some help to contain Butler in Game 6, when the Lakers held the Heat to 58 points through three quarters and led by as much as 36 points.
Once again, James had a triple-double with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, and Davis totaled 19 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. The Lakers wanted to close out the Finals in Game 5 when they wore the "Black Mamba" jerseys designed by Bryant, but they got it done one game later in their white uniforms. It hardly mattered.
"For Kobe, I know he’s looking down on us super proud," Davis said. "Before the tragedy, he would come to the game and just tell us, ‘This is y’all's year. Go out and take it.’ He had a lot of confidence in our team . . . We miss him, and this definitely is for him."
James explained what it meant to his storied career to add to the Lakers’ legacy by winning his fourth NBA title with a third franchise, and he thanked Pelinka for fulfilling his promise to do whatever it takes to win by making the deal for Davis. James also praised owner Jeanie Buss for making it all possible with her commitment to winning.
"This is a historic franchise, and to be a part of this is something I’ll be able to talk about and my grandkids and kids will be able to talk about," James said. "Their ‘pawpaw’ played for the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s like playing for the Yankees and winning or playing for the Cowboys and winning a Super Bowl, or the Patriots. It’s like playing for the Red Sox. So, to be able to win for a historical franchise is something . . . you can always remember what you’re doing it for."
James declined to share details of his postgame conversation with Buss, but he just said he told her, "I’m proud to be a Laker."