Jeanie Buss knew the entire Los Angeles Lakers organization was going to have a difficult time processing Kobe Bryant’s death. Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January, and the entire league spent days mourning and honoring Bryant’s legacy.
The Lakers were hit hardest by Bryant’s death. Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the franchise, where he won five championships and had two numbers retired. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel spoke with reporters shortly after Bryant’s death, and said the team became much closer following Bryant’s death.
LeBron James played a major part in that. Buss acknowledged James’ leadership was an integral part of the Lakers coming together and succeeding during the 2019-20 NBA season. Buss said of James, “He's a leader, he's fearless, he's taught me just by example that you don't accept anything less than your respect.”
“They put on their shoulders a fan base that was heartbroken, and they [were] led by LeBron James…he’s a leader, he’s fearless.”@JeanieBuss joins WNTT tonight at 7 PM ET to talk about the resiliency she saw in the Lakers organization this season. pic.twitter.com/M1iZrndwMC
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) December 15, 2020
Buss not only credited James for his actions following Bryant’s death, but also for the way James navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest in the United States following George Floyd’s death.
Buss’ full answer read:
“The way that the team came together, they put on their shoulders a fan base that was heartbroken. And they, led by LeBron James, who, you know, I didn’t really know LeBron until he became a Laker. Watching him especially in this time of crisis, not only in the loss of Kobe, but during a pandemic and also the social unrest that we experienced this summer, he’s a leader, he’s fearless. He’s taught me just by example, that you don’t accept anything less than your respect. He even said it in his speech, ‘I want my respect.’
“He has been just a comfort to Laker nation and he led this team. To go from not being in the playoffs a year before to winning a championship is mind blowing. And to do it in a bubble under challenging circumstances — the team was separated from their home, their families for over 90 days while they sacrificed to play in the bubble. To be the last team standing really shows their resiliency. People said, ‘Oh, how did you get them to all get behind Kobe and all that?’ And I’m like, ‘Do you really think that was a plan?’ That was completely organic.
“When Anthony Davis hit that game winning shot during the playoffs and just screamed out Kobe’s name, that came from his heart. That’s organic. That’s real. And that’s what Kobe meant, not only to this organization, but to each of these individuals who wanted to honor his memory and they did an amazing job. They were inspirational for a fanbase that had been heartbroken.”
Following Bryant’s death, the Lakers held a private team luncheon so members of the organization could grieve. James was reportedly the first player to speak at that luncheon.
Lakers honored Kobe Bryant throughout 2019-20 NBA season
The Lakers found numerous ways to honor Bryant during the 2019-20 NBA season. Days after Bryant’s death, the team unveiled a uniform patch and a logo on the court at Staples Center that paid tribute to Bryant. On special dates, the team wore Bryant-inspired Black Mamba jerseys. Those jerseys brought the team plenty of luck in the postseason.
Following the Lakers’ win in the NBA Finals, Anthony Davis dedicated the victory to Bryant. Vanessa Bryant also paid tribute to her husband and the Lakers, congratulating the team on a post that featured a picture of Kobe Bryant with Lakers vice president Rob Pelinka.
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