LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Los Angeles Lakers dedicated their NBA Finals victory to the late Kobe Bryant, whose death in a helicopter crash in January united and motivated the team in a year full of challenges.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in the crash near Los Angeles, sending shockwaves through the NBA world and beyond.
Bryant won five championships in 20 seasons with the Lakers and is considered one of the sport’s all-time greats.
“Ever since the tragedy, we wanted to do it for him, and we didn’t want to let him down,” Anthony Davis, who was Bryant’s team mate on the 2012 Olympic team, said after Sunday’s Game Six victory over the Miami Heat.
“I know he’s looking down on us and proud of us, I know (Bryant’s wife) Vanessa is proud of us, the organization is 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 was never far from the minds of the players during their more than three-month stay inside the NBA’s bio-secure bubble at Disney World in Florida.
Late in Sunday’s game the players could be heard breaking the huddle with the cry of “One, two, three, Mamba!” referring to Bryant’s nickname.
Back in Los Angeles, fans poured out into the streets chanting “Kobe! Kobe!”
Team President Jeanie Buss acknowledged the bittersweet nature of celebrating the franchise’s first title since 2010 without Bryant, who took home the Finals MVP honors that year.
“To Lakers nation, we have been through a heartbreaking tragedy with the loss of our beloved Kobe Bryant and Gianna,” she said.
“Let this trophy serve as a reminder of when we come together, believe in each other, incredible things can happen.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford)