Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and star player Anthony Davis both paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant after the franchise secured the NBA championship on Sunday.
Bryant, among the greatest players in Lakers and NBA history, was tragically killed alongside his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash in January.
Bryant and Gianna have been at the forefront of Lakers' minds since the tragedy, with players' jerseys having special patches dedicated to the pair embroidered on the jerseys. The team also introduced special “Black Mamba” jerseys during the playoffs.
“Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted to do is do it for him, and we didn’t let him down,” Davis said on the court after the Lakers claimed a 106-93 win over the Miami Heat in Game 6 to clinch the championship.
“It would have been great to do it last game in his jerseys, but it made us come down even more aggressive, even more powerful on both ends of the floor, to make sure we close it down tonight.
"I know he’s looking down on us proud of us. I know Vanessa [Bryant is] proud of us, the organisation’s proud of us. It means a lot to us.
“He was a big brother to all of us, and we did this for him."
Bryant's widow Vanessa issued her own message of congratulations to the Lakers after their triumph, posting a photo of her late husband alongside Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.
“Congratulations Uncle P! Congratulations Lakers,” she wrote on Instagram. “Kobe was right, RP! ‘Stay the course — blockout the noise.’
“Wish Kobe and Gigi were here to see this.”
Pelinka gave an emotional press conference following the Lakers' victory and revealed how he has drawn strength from Bryant throughout the NBA "bubble" experience, where the teams relocated to Disney World, Florida to complete the season in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"There would be times in my hotel room here when you're in the 'bubble' for 100 days ... it's tough ... and there would be times in the middle of the night when I would hear his voice ... 'stay the course, finish the task'," Pelinka said.
"To be able to have a friend who changed my life and helped me understand what greatness was about and what sacrifice was about – there's not many greater gifts. 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."
Following the Lakers' championship victory, LeBron James was named NBA Finals MVP, becoming the first player to claim the accolade with three different teams, and Lakers coach Frank Vogel believes James is the best player "the basketball universe has ever seen".
James's fourth NBA championship also saw him take home his fourth Finals MVP award. He trails only Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, who won six to go with his six NBA championships.
The 35-year-old James, who also won the award during two championship runs with Miami and one with Cleveland, averaged 29.8 points per game on 59 per cent shooting in the Finals while leading a defensive effort that handcuffed the Heat in Game Six.
"He's the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen," Vogel told reporters. "And if you think you know, you don't know, OK, until you're around him every day, you're coaching him, you're seeing his mind, you're seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group."
James had said bringing the Larry O'Brien trophy back to Los Angeles for the first time since 2010 was his sole focus when he joined in the summer of 2018 after the franchise had fallen on hard times.
"It means a lot to represent this franchise," said James. "I told [Lakers president] Jeanie [Buss] when I came here that I was going to put this franchise back in the position where it belongs.
"We just want our respect. Rob [Pelinka] wants his respect, coach Vogel wants his respect, our organisation wants its respect, Lakers nation wants its respect," he said. "And I want my respect, too."