It was a Sunday night in January, 2006.

A friend, who was moving to Washington, bought a couple of Laker tickets, looking to repay me after I'd bought him tickets to a Dodgers game the summer before.

What we witnessed that night was something neither of us will ever forget.

Sitting in section 334, row 10 at Staples Center that night, we witnessed the greatest player of our era, Kobe Bryant, drop 81 points.

Having seen it with our own eyes, it was hard to believe. What was even harder to believe was this same friend was the first to tell me Sunday afternoon that Kobe had died in a helicopter crash.

While it was tough to swallow that one of the greatest basketball players of all time had died, what hit me even harder was his second oldest daughter was with him on that helicopter.

I never played basketball at a highly competitive level, but I truly enjoyed watching the game. I grew up in the days of Michael Jordan dominating the NBA.

When Kobe came along, you could see the comparisons. You could see just how much Kobe wanted to emulate Michael. And he did his absolute best.

The Kobe-Shaq days brought the Lakers back to glory, winning three consecutive titles. The talk when Shaq left town was Kobe was a perfectionist.

And you saw that, with the players he had around him during the days when Laker basketball was forgettable, at best.

But Kobe never gave you anything but his best. He tore his Achilles, getting fouled in the process, and still went to the free throw line before coming out of the game.

When Kobe came to the NBA, he was just a kid. The year was 1996.

His first playoff series with the Lakers came when I was about to head into high school, and I remember listening to one of the games against Utah, and my coach at the time was yelling at the radio after hearing Kobe throwing up bad shot after bad shot.

But things went up from there.

I reached out to people that I've either covered or have met along the way during the last 10 years and asked them to tell me what Kobe meant to them.

Jordan Gazdik, who played basketball at Peninsula High and now attends BYU:

"The thing is, the death of Kobe, is hitting each and every one of us, basketball fan or not, like a family member's death. It feels like we lost a brother, a friend, a father. I think that speaks perfectly to who Kobe was and the legacy he left. He was an inspiration, a hero and an example. He motivated us to chase our dreams and stop at nothing to become who we wanted to be."

Daniel Tom, who does PA announcing for Cal State Dominguez Hills and other area high schools:

"Although I never played, he is and always will be the player of my generation. Playing basketball in school growing up, it's who I tried to be when I played. He is the reason why the NBA is what it is today."

Daniel Patterson, who grew up in Hawthorne and now works for the Vegas Golden Knights:

"My favorite memory of Kobe isn't all the championships, it wasn't the 81 points in a game, it has to be dropping 60 points in his final game to pretty much say 'Yeah, I'm retiring, and I'm still the greatest."

Brian Edelman, the Palos Verdes High basketball coach:

"I think you can't have a conversation about the best scorers of all-time without mentioning Kobe. You also can't have a conversation about the legacy of the Lakers without mentioning him."

Sunday morning, basketball and sports fans had to swallow something that may not be easy for a long time: Mamba Out.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.