As tributes continue to pour in following the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday, Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss has shared her tribute to the player that meant so much to her team and her family -- and the daughter that was set to carry on his legacy in the sport.
"Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers," Buss wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of herself with Bryant and his family on the way to the 2016 All-Star Game. "My father loved you like a son, which makes us family."
"When you invited me to lunch shortly after my father passed away, I was struggling to find motivation and purpose. Kobe, you brought Gianna with you to spend some time with me," she continued. "You explained that you wanted to show her that women can be leaders in the NBA, just like the men. At first, it seemed like an action of a devoted father setting an example for his daughter. But in actuality – and I am positively sure you knew EXACTLY what you were doing – what you did was give me the inspiration and strength I was searching for. I reflect on that day often and it makes me smile and it makes me strong. I call on that memory whenever I feel down and need a bit of courage."
Buss' father, businessman Jerry Buss, purchased the Lakers in 1979, seeing them through the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-led "Showtime" era, and then on to the "Kobe Bryant Era," starting in the late '90s. When he died in 2013, controlling ownership passed to his six children, with his eldest daughter taking over as team president.
"For everything you did on the court that filled me with so much joy and love, for all the lives you changed through basketball itself, it was that day with Gigi that reignited my drive and determination," Buss continued in her emotional tribute, sending a message to the Bryant family as well. "Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri - I am so sorry for your loss. We are grateful to have you in our lives and we will always be here for you."
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"To the families that also lost loved ones on Sunday, the entire Laker family mourns with you. Laker Nation - we are one family grieving the loss of people we all loved dearly. We will mourn together, cry together but we will also heal together, love together and win TOGETHER. We love you," she concluded. "Kobe - that’s what you made you so unbelievably special. You not only inspired us towards greatness, you showed us the way."
"To learn more about how you can help the families affected by this tragedy go to MambaOnThree.org and to further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports visit MambaSportsFoundation.org #peace #love #joy #family #Mamba #Mambacita #2 #8 #24," she added.
Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26. The accident has sent shockwaves through the sports world and around the globe as fans, friends and families mourn the loss of the nine victims.
Vanessa Bryant broke her silence on the death of her husband and daughter in an Instagram post on Wednesday, sharing her grief for her own family -- which also includes daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months -- as well as the others who lost loved ones in the tragic accident.
"There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever," she wrote. "They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon. I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way."
See more on the late superstar in the video below.