I’m not big on the memorializing of celebrity deaths. There is enough pain and suffering with those I know personally. I normally say nothing and move on.

But damn. Kobe Bryant.

I remember watching him play in the McDonald’s High School All-American game before he was drafted. I remember him entering the league in 1996, right when my sports first love was moving from baseball to basketball. I remember his swagger. I remember him trying to take the mantle from MJ. I remember him doing it.

I didn’t know the guy personally. I have no idea whether he was a “good” guy. I can tell you that his determination to achieve greatness was insane. I never thought anyone would match MJ’s drive for greatness. But Kobe did. That is inspiring.

Kobe has been a fixture in my sports fandom since age 12. His myth and mystique color all my sports conversations, and even the way I think about life beyond sports. The stories are legend.

There are a few sports moments I’ve experienced that transcend whatever they mean within the game. Moments that left a mark. Moments I’ll never, ever forget. Kobe’s last game was one. It was the final day of the NBA season. I was flipping back and forth between the Warriors chasing an historical 73rd win, Steph Curry chasing yet another 3pt record, and Kobe’s last game. I assumed Kobe’s Lakers would lose a meaningless game, Kobe might hit one or two memorable vintage shots, and get a moving standing O and maybe a little speech.

You never could’ve convinced me that by the 4th quarter, I’d be completely ignoring the Warriors game, eyes glued to Kobe. I’ve never seen anything like it. No playoff contention. No records on the line. No bigger glory for a big performance. The man’s legacy was sealed. He didn’t come out and goof around high fiving everyone. He laced up and came out playing to win the game like always. But his teammates just wouldn’t stop passing it to him. They wanted the most they could get. And Kobe pulled out the most Kobe performance ever. What he did that night surpassed in my mind even his 81-point night years earlier. He was in his prime then. Feeling it.

His last game wasn’t Kobe feeling it. It was Kobe willing it. He looked so tired. He almost – almost – looked like he didn’t want them to pass him the ball. He was like a boxer in the final round, just trying to stand, summoning everything to throw a punch that looked barely strong enough. And the shots kept falling. Not only was he scoring, his team was pulling closer from a game they’d trailed and looked to be over. He. Just. Kept. Hitting. Shots. It was out of control. Every release was a cosmic spark. You could feel it in your bones. He ended with 60 points. At age 39. After a 20 year career. 60 points of pure exhaustion. Kobe gave every last drop his mind and body could possibly give as a basketball player.

Oh, and the most Kobe part of all? They won the game.

I’ve re-watched that full game a few times. And the highlights several times. And the final quarter many more. I’ll never forget that. There was something in that performance that rippled through the universe. It changed the nature of what’s possible. That game spoke to me on a deep level. It still does. Thank you for that Kobe.

When I yell, “Kobe” while tossing a wad of paper in the trash, it’s just a little different now. Something’s missing from the universe. A little piece of Greatness is gone.

RIP.