LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Lakers owner and team president Jeanie Buss broke her silence Thursday with a heartbreaking statement on the death of her longtime friend and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas Sunday.

Kobe Bryant addresses the crowd at halftime as both his #8 and #24 Los Angeles Lakers jerseys are retired at Staples Center on Dec. 18, 2017. (Getty Images)

“Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers,” she wrote on Instagram.

She included a photo of the Bryant family and Buss taken at NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto in February 2016. Also in the photo was Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was also killed in the Jan. 26 crash.

“My father loved you like a son, which makes us family,” she went on. “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. I reflect on that day often and it makes me smile and it makes me strong. 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.”

The relationship between the Buss family and Kobe has always been strong. In 2017, Jeanie hired Kobe’s longtime agent Rob Pelinka as general manager of the Lakers.

RELATED: Kawhi Leonard Flew Often With Pilot Killed In Kobe Bryant Crash

The Lakers organization released its own statement on Bryant’s death Wednesday afternoon. The Lakers first game back since Kobe’s death will be Friday night at Staples Center against the Portland Trail Blazers.

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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. 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. I reflect on that day often and it makes me smile and it makes me strong. 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. Kobe – that’s what you made you so unbelievably special. You not only inspired us towards greatness, you showed us the way. : : To learn more about how you can help the families affected by this tragedy go to MambaOnThree.org and to further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports visit MambaSportsFoundation.org #peace #love #joy #family #Mamba #Mambacita #2 #8 #24 : : Picture taken in February 2016 on the way to #NBAAllStar game in #Toronto photo credit @pinkskennedy

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