Rob Pelinka Reveals Kobe Bryant Texted Him Minutes Before Helicopter Crash, His ‘Last Human Act Was Heroic’

Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka delivered an emotional speech to Kobe Bryant at the celebration of life honoring the NBA legend. Pelinka is more than an executive for the team Kobe played on for 20 years; he’s his former agent and best friend and the godfather of Kobe’s late daughter, Gianna Bryant.

Pelinka took the dais, introduced by Jimmy Kimmel, to pay tribute to his friend. In telling a moving story about his best friend, he also revealed that Bryant had texted him mere minutes before the helicopter crash that took his life, in an attempt to help a friend.

“The world knows Kobe as a basketball legend, but I’ve been blessed for 20 years to know him as so much more. The Kobe I know had three unique sides that I hope to quickly honor today: Kobe the best friend, Kobe the dad, and Kobe the husband. I will start with Kobe the best friend.

“Do you remember where you were on that foggy sunless morning of January 26 when the axis of the world seemed to shift forever, for all of us? I was in Sunday church with my family; my phone was deep in the pocket of my jeans when I felt the familiar text buzz. For a second I ignored the notification because I was in church. But, for some reason, with this text, I felt a sudden urge to check my phone. I slipped it out of my jeans and discovered that the text was from Kobe.

“There was nothing uncharacteristic or unfamiliar about this; for the past two decades, Kobe and I talked or texted every single day, because that’s what best friends do. In that moment, my instincts were to put the phone down and get back to the preacher’s sermon, but a gentle, otherworldly nudge compelled me to open the text, so I did. I quickly saw that Kobe was asking me if I happened to know a certain baseball agent based in southern California.

“Since Kobe’s question didn’t have any urgency to it, I decided I’d wait until after church to respond. But, then again, there was a gentle nudge. I grab my phone and text Kobe back that I had seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night, and was happy to help him with whatever he wanted.

“It was now just past 9:30.

“Kobe texts back, explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters. Kobe vouched for the girl’s character, intellect and work ethic; he clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her. I text Kobe right back and said I would put a plan in motion to help get that done.

“A handful of minutes later, Kobe and Gianna and seven other beautiful souls ascended into heaven.

“Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter. The girl in that text chain who he’d been wanting to help so badly was Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of coach John Altobelli, who was also on the helicopter.

“Kobe’s last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future. Hasn’t Kobe done that for all of us?

Kobe was literally the best friend anyone could ask for. He always championed and passionately celebrated the accomplishments of others and downplayed his own. The man who had won multiple NBA titles, MVPs and an Oscar would buzz with excitement when someone he loved would reach even a simple goal.

With any achievement, Kobe was always the first to call. This is one of his greatest gifts as a friend and something I will forever miss.”

Pelinka went on to describe Kobe’s three other distinct sides, including adventures in carpooling as a father and, as a husband, how he learned to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on piano for his wife, Vanessa.