EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka issued a poignant statement Thursday, remembering Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven other victims of Sunday's helicopter crash.
"On Sunday, I lost my best friend and my sweet goddaughter. With that, there has been an amputation of part of my soul," Pelinka said in his first public comments since the Bryants' deaths. "Kobe was a force of nature, deep and obsessed with excellence. He was wise, determined, passionate. A visionary beyond measure. A dedicated and loving husband, and a 'girl-dad' like no other. When he walked into a room, the energy ignited. He was high voltage, with a motor that had no limits. His mind had an infinite capacity to learn. He was, simply put, the most inspirational athlete of our time. What the world may not know is that he was also the best friend anyone could ever imagine.
"Gigi was pure joy. Her smile brought comfort to any and every occasion. She was brilliant, kind and warm. And, like her dad, when she stepped onto the basketball court, she took on an entirely different nature, and boy could she play. Her basketball destiny was apparent, and the world knew it. She was also an extraordinary, loyal and supportive sister, and a wonderful friend to my children. My son and daughter always left time with Gigi feeling better about life itself. Everything Gigi stood for, I am so proud of.
"Maya Angelou once wrote, 'When great trees fall ... lions hunker down in tall grasses.' What I am daily learning is that after the tragic loss of these nine souls, life on this side of eternity will never be the same. For any of us who knew them, there is an irreplaceable void left behind.
"But I am also finding that there is a hope. For now, each new step for me will be full of deep love and prayers, as a heavy sorrow for Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka and Capri, and all the families involved, is slowly redeemed into something healed and new. I am coming to realize that nothing can separate any of us from the love and inspiration we've received from Kobe and Gianna, nothing at all.
"Their lives have shown me that death has no victory. Last Sunday is not the end of the story. It's just a new beginning. Kobe and Gigi's legacies will live on -- and gain even more power and influence. All of us touched by them will now try to become torch carriers of their legacies. And, while we do that, we can be certain of this: Kobe and Gigi will continue on, forever, playing a joy-filled game of basketball in heaven above."
Pelinka, who turned 50 last month, had a relationship with Bryant for nearly half his life. Pelinka worked under agent Arn Tellem when Bryant signed with SFX management as an NBA rookie coming out of high school.
Later, when Pelinka left Tellem to found Landmark Sports, Bryant came with him as Pelinka's marquee client.
But Pelinka and Bryant had much more than an agent-athlete relationship. The two moved their families close to one another in Orange County, California, and Bryant was instrumental in Pelinka's appointment as Lakers GM in 2017.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Pelinka has been with the team at the practice facility the past several days after the initial shock of the accident subsided.
"We've just encouraged him to be with his family as much as he can, and to be away from here, and to be here as much as feels right for him," Vogel said. "To his credit, he's done just a great job of striking that balance, just making sure obviously that his priorities are in the right spot to be down in Newport [Beach].
"But he's been in the last two days, and we're concentrating on the work. There's therapy in the work. Our whole belief since I got here is we're just going to put our heads down, roll our sleeves up, and grind and do the job. That really hasn't been any different for him the past few days."
Vogel said that the entire Lakers organization has benefited from spending time with one another through the grieving process.
"I do believe that being around each other is good for all of us, and I think it applies to him as well," he said.
Also, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city has been in touch throughout the week with the Lakers and Vanessa Bryant and is planning a public memorial for Bryant and those killed in Sunday's crash. No date has been set, Garcetti told The Los Angeles Times.