Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss broke her silence on Thursday following the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
In an emotional post to her Instagram page, Buss — who took over as owner of the Lakers following the death of her father, Jerry Buss, in 2013 — reflected on Bryant’s importance to her family and to the franchise he called home for 20 years.
Recalling a lunch she shared with Bryant and Gianna, Buss, 58, said the two played an important part in her healing following the death of her father.
“Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers. My father loved you like a son, which makes us family,” she wrote in the post, which included a picture of herself and the Bryant family on the way to the NBA All-Star Game in 2016. “When you invited me to lunch shortly after my father passed away, I was struggling to find motivation and purpose.”
During the lunch, Bryant told Buss he invited Gianna to join them because he wanted his daughter to see “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,” Buss explained. “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.”
Bryant and Buss have known each other for more than two decades. After Bryant was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft, he soon became a Laker as her father approved a trade for him that day. Buss has held multiple executive roles with the team throughout her career.
“I reflect on that day often and it makes me smile and it makes me strong,” Buss continued in her post. “I call on that memory whenever I feel down and need a bit of courage. 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.”
In her tribute, Buss addressed Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, 37, and their surviving daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri.
“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,” Buss wrote. “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.”
Vanessa Bryant made her first public comments since the tragic incident on Wednesday night, which included an announcement that the Mamba Sports Foundation set up a charity for the seven other victims of the helicopter crash: John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan. Buss included this in her post.
The crash is currently under investigation.