Long live the Mamba
Like so many people around the world, I spent Sunday in utter shock as I read the news of the passing of Kobe Bryant.
My jaw literally dropped when I read on Twitter that he was involved in a helicopter crash that resulted in his death. For the next 15 minutes, I scoured the Internet, hoping that it was what has been coined "fake news."
I hoped it was just one of those celebrity death hoaxes we've grown so accustomed to seeing, or that it was simply misinformation.
Unfortunately, I continued to see more and more credible news outlets report the same thing. There was no hoax or misinformation. It was no fake news. It was all true.
At the age of 41, one of the greatest players ever to play the sport of basketball was gone.
What made his tragic passing all the more surreal was just how visible he had been over the past few weeks.
Just the night before, Kobe was making headlines as he congratulated LeBron James for passing him in career points.
Just two days earlier, Jalen Rose was posting a comedic video of himself and Kobe in which Kobe poked fun of how he scored 81 points against Rose and his Toronto Raptor squad.
And now he's gone. "You can be here today and gone tomorrow" is a cliche we've heard countless times throughout our lives, but Sunday was a painful reminder of why the saying exists.
I was never a Lakers fan. In fact, I've always disliked the Lakers. And that's probably why I have an even greater respect for Kobe as a player.
So many times, my heart was broken by the greatness of Kobe Bryant.
I had the pleasure of watching the last five years of Michael Jordan's career. But I didn't get to see his masterpiece in totality. His career began before I was born, and I was too young to remember his early years in the league.
That wasn't the case for Kobe Bryant. This hurts so much because I grew up watching him. I watched from his rookie reason in 1996 until his final year in 2016.
I watched him emerge from a promising up-and-coming player into an NBA All-Star. I watched him join forces with Shaq and win three straight championships. I watched him win two more alongside Pau Gasol.
I watched him become an NBA legend and the closest thing to Jordan I had ever seen.
Sure, LeBron was more talented and superior physically and athletically, but if you forced me to pick between Kobe and LeBron to lead my team into a game seven, I'd pick Kobe each day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Bryant had the kind of killer instinct that Jordan had. He had that same stone-cold assassin mentality that made winning not good enough. He wanted to destroy you over and over again.
He would do anything and everything to win, and he simply refused to lose.
An athlete's ego always seems to get the best of them from time to time, and for so long, it caused a rift between Kobe and Shaq. They were tired of hearing that they needed the other to win.
What they were too prideful to see at the time was that they made each other better. Without Kobe, Shaq isn't the all-time great player he is regarded as now. Without Shaq, Kobe isn't a legend.
They joined forces for one of the greatest runs we've seen in the modern era of professional basketball as they rolled to three straight championship victories.
But even when they parted, that will to win and prove they could be champions without each other fueled them.
Shaq went on to win a championship alongside Dwayne Wade in Miami. Kobe stayed the course in Los Angeles and ended up winning two more championships with Gasol.
In this modern era of sports where athletes are constantly playing musical chairs and changing teams more often than we all change our socks, Kobe always stayed true to Los Angeles. Even after Shaq left and the Laker organization began to regress, he stayed loyal.
It eventually paid off. He got some nice pieces around him, and he led the organization to a revival.
Kobe was a very polarizing figure when he played. Some called him selfish. Some questioned his approach to the game.
But you couldn't question his ability to win in the biggest moments, and you'll never be able to question his greatness as a player.
What made Sunday's news even more sad and gut-wrenching was when it was revealed that Kobe's 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also killed in the crash.
If you believe in an afterlife like I do, there is at least some solace you can find in such an unimaginable tragedy.
The two did not die alone. They were at each others' side. They were with one of the people they loved more than anything else in the world, and now they'll be together again in Heaven.