Pelinka, who was once Kobe's agent, was one of the handful of speakers during Monday's "Celebration of Life" ceremony at Staples Center, affectionately known as "the house that Kobe built." The 50-year-old Lakers executive remembered his closest friend in an emotional, gut-wrenching eulogy about the three different sides to the Lakers legend he knew: Kobe the best friend, Kobe the husband and Kobe the father.
"The world knows Kobe as a basketball legend but I've been blessed for 20 years to know him as so much more. The Kobe I know had three unique sides that I hope to quickly honor today. Kobe the best friend. Kobe the dad. And Kobe the husband. I will start with Kobe the best friend," Pelinka opened his speech. "Do you remember where you were on that foggy sunless morning of January 26th when the axis of the world seemed to shift forever? For all of us. I was in Sunday church with my family."
"My phone was deep in the pocket of my jeans. I felt the familiar text buzz. For a second, I ignored the notification because I was in church. But for some reason with this text I felt a sudden urge to check my phone. I slipped it out of my jeans and discovered the text was from Kobe. There was nothing uncharacteristic or unfamiliar about this for the last two decades Kobe and I talked or texted every single day 'cause that's what best friends do," he continued. "In that moment, my instincts were to put the phone down and get back to the preacher's sermon but a gentle otherworldly nudge compelled me to open the text, so I did. I quickly saw that Kobe was asking me if I happened to know a certain baseball agent based in Southern California."
"Since Kobe's question didn't have any urgency, I decided I'd wait 'til after church to respond but then again there was a gentle nudge. I grabbed my phone and texted Kobe back that I'd seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night and was happy to help him with whatever he wanted. It was now just past 9:30. Kobe texted back explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters," Pelinka continued. "Kobe vouched for the girl's character, intellect and work ethic. He clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her. I texted Kobe right back and said I would put a plan in motion to help him get that done."
Pelinka recalled that moments after they exchanged their texts, that Kobe, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others, had died.
"A handful of minutes later, Kobe and Gianna and seven other beautiful souls ascended into heaven. Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter," Pelinka said. "The girl in that text chain that he was wanting to help so badly was Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of coach John Altobelli who was also on the helicopter. Kobe's last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl's future. Hasn’t Kobe done that for all of us? Kobe was literally the best friend anyone could ever ask for. He always championed and passionately celebrated the accomplishments of others and downplayed his own. The man who had won multiple NBA titles, MVPs and an Oscar would buzz with excitement when someone he loved would reach even a simple goal. With any achievement, Kobe was always the first to call. This was one of his greatest gifts as a friend and something I will forever miss."
Pelinka also opened up about Kobe's post-retirement days, where he embraced his role as a father.
"As Vanessa shared in the years following his retirement, Kobe was often one of the first carpools to pick up his daughters from school. With Kobe in pool position, my kids who attended the same school also got to see him often. Every time they would see him, he would greet them with an enthusiasm as if they just won student of the year," he said. "The other day my 9-year-old daughter, Emery, had big tears in her eyes because she was so badly missing Uncle Kobe and Gigi. When I asked her why she said, 'Daddy, whenever Kobe would see me he would run to me and scoop me up in his giant arms and raise me high above his head. Kobe always made me feel like I was queen of the world.'"
"Kobe had a debt of care for people that is unparalleled. He made every moment magical as if living a fantasy novel. This was the case when my family and Bryants went on a camping or should I say glamping trip to Montana. We canoed and rode horses, went fly-fishing and river-rafting and rode on a stage coach to a campfire dinner under the stars," he remembered. "At each turn Kobe made everything an adventure, especially for the kids. And of course, with all the wilderness activities we did they had to be done til the nth degree. If it was fly-fishing we had to learn to tie our own flies and fish standing in the stream with heavy weighted boots on.No shortcuts, Kobe's enthusiasm and joy for all things life made that trip one for a lifetime."
Pelinka went on to remember Kobe's giving heart, recalling the difficult day after the accident.
"Kobe lived to make other people's lives better. All the way up to his final text. The day after Kobe was gone, I was at home feeling totally lost. I couldn't imagine life without the strength and guidance of my best friend. As part of my grieving I felt an overwhelming need to connect with something tangible that represented our friendship. A picture, a voicemail. Something that Kobe left behind. My wife reminded me of The Wizenard book Kobe authored. It was recently given to me. I went upstairs and found the book in my library and opened it and on the inside cover, he had penned with own pen these words: 'To RP, my brother. May you always remember to enjoy the road. Especially when it's a hard one. Love Kobe,'" he said. "Kobe wrote these words to me a few months ago. Now, I realize that perhaps they were meant for us all. Kobe, my brother, this is so, so hard and I don't know how to journey on without you. But I know you want us to keep going and our memories with you will give us strength to somehow move forward and as you wrote even in the valley of unimaginable loss we will somehow find a way to have joy."
Pelinka detailed Kobe's fatherly love for his daughters and his adoration for his wife, Vanessa. Pelinka revealed Kobe's desires to learn Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" for his love, during a lengthy work trip that was pulling him away from his family for longer than he had hoped.
"While he was away he wanted to live in his love for Vanessa so at night, under the moonlit sky, he vowed to teach himself by ear to play the first movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata.' When he told me this I thought there's no way. I knew he wasn't a trained musician and that was a real difficult piece of music to play. But Kobe's passion and love for Vanessa combined with the patience and the focus that only the Black Mamba has made this seemingly impossible goal a reality," Pelinka recalled. "That next morning Kobe called and played me the first few measures. The next morning more. By the end of the week he had the entire piece mastered and he played it over the phone without a mistake. In my heart I knew that moment was one of Kobe's grandest feats for his deepest loves. Kobe had mastered the greatest piano movements ever written as a symbol as one of the most beautiful loves the world has ever seen."
Pelinka was one of a handful of speakers eulogizing Kobe and his daughter, Gianna, including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe's wife, Vanessa Bryant. Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera performed. More than 20,000 of Kobe's closest family, friends and fans gathered to celebrate their lives on Monday. Pelinka was Kobe's agent before taking over as general manager of the Lakers in 2017. He was godfather to Gianna.
On Monday, a "Celebration of Life" was held in honor of Kobe and Gianna at the Staples Center, where Kobe played countless games during his entire 20-year NBA career as a Los Angeles Laker. In an earlier Instagram post, 37-year-old Vanessa shared the significance of the memorial's date. Gianna's jersey number was 2 and Kobe's jersey number when he retired was 24. She and Kobe were together for 20 years.
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