Lakers governor and controlling owner Jeanie Buss took to social media on Thursday to express some heartfelt emotions over the recent death of franchise icon Kobe Bryant.
The team is still grieving and mourning Bryant's death Sunday in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. In her post on Instagram, Buss spoke of how Bryant served to inspire her shortly after the death of her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, in 2013.
"Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers" Jeanie Buss wrote in her post. "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.
"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."
Jeanie Buss eventually took control of the Lakers in 2017 after a lengthy legal battle with her brothers. When she took over, Jeanie removed her brother, Jim Buss, as the Lakers' executive vice president of basketball operations. Shortly thereafter, Magic Johnson took on Jim Buss' role while Rob Pelinka was named general manager.
In her social media post, Buss says that meeting with Bryant years ago had a strong impact on her. She also spoke of how the Lakers will stand by Bryant's wife, Vanessa, and her other three daughters in the wake of the tragedy.
"I reflect on that day often and it makes me smile and it makes me strong," Jeanis Buss wrote. "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.
"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. 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."
Her post comes a day after the Lakers issued a statement on social media about Bryant's passing. In it, the Lakers said: "We are devastated and have been forever changed by the sudden loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. We send our love to Vanessa, the Bryant family, and to the families of the other passengers.
"Words cannot express what Kobe means to the Los Angeles Lakers, our fans, and our city. More than a basketball player, he was a beloved father, husband, and teammate. Their love and light will remain in our hearts forever."
Words cannot express what Kobe means to the Los Angeles Lakers, our fans, and our city. More than a basketball player, he was a beloved father, husband, and teammate. Their love and light will remain in our hearts forever.— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 30, 2020
Additionally, the Lakers said Bryant's Mamba Sports Foundation has set up the "MambaOnThree" Fund to support the families affected by this tragedy.
Bryant's former Lakers teammate, Pau Gasol, took to Twitter on Thursday as well to offer up condolences to Bryant's family and the other victims of the helicopter crash. In his tweets, he wrote the following: "I still refuse to believe it... it still feels like a nightmare that I can’t wait to wake up from... but if this nightmare continues, I will do what I can to keep your legacy going and your lessons present in everything I do.
"I will be heartbroken for a long time, but I will forever be thankful for having had shared so much together. You inspired me and pushed me to be a better version of myself everyday. As you have done with many others.
I still refuse to believe it... it still feels like a nightmare that I can’t wait to wake up from... but if this nightmare continues, I will do what I can to keep your legacy going and your lessons present in everything I do. pic.twitter.com/n3DL1NHjko— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) January 30, 2020
The Lakers held practice on Wednesday in El Segundo, Calif., with a determination to keep Bryant and the victims in their thoughts while also getting on with the business of basketball and life.
"We want to represent what Kobe was about, more than anything," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "We've always wanted to make him proud, and that's not going to be any different now."
Vogel, who joined the Lakers eight months ago, was the only person to speak to the media after the workout. The loss apparently was still too raw for the players, including superstars LeBron James and Davis, who played in the Olympics with Bryant.
The current Lakers are still grappling with the loss while they prepare for their next game Friday night at Staples Center against Portland (10:30 ET, ESPN).
"We've become a family in a very short time," Vogel said of the Lakers' roster, which features only one player who suited up with Bryant. "It's something that we talk about in the NBA with your teams, but this group in particular has really grown to love each other very rapidly, and we understand the importance and the opportunity we have this year. This has just brought us closer together."
Outside the Lakers' training complex, a temporary wall of remembrance has grown to nearly the entire length of the building, bookended on either side by large photos and colorful memorials to the Bryants. Fans have streamed through the security gates and up to the wall throughout the past three days, using markers to inscribe their thoughts and prayers on the white surface.
Bryant's death has temporarily overwhelmed an exciting season of rebirth for the Lakers, who have missed the playoffs for a franchise-record six straight years. The current Lakers are poised for a serious run at the franchise's 17th championship, with James and Davis leading a burgeoning powerhouse to the Western Conference's best record at 36-10.
But life and basketball have been put in a new perspective for everyone around the Lakers.
After their game against the Clippers on Tuesday night was postponed, the players and coaches gathered that afternoon to share stories and remembrances because it felt "therapeutic and beneficial," Vogel said.
"It's been something that has touched my family, being the father of daughters, and it's been very emotional," Vogel said. "It's something that brings us together. I'm around the people who were closest to Kobe throughout his time here, and it's been just a deeply saddening time for all of us."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.