There are no words to describe the feeling you get when experiencing the loss of someone close to you. Many of us have gone through it at different stages in our lives - there's nothing that can prepare you for it and rarely anything that can comfort you.
But what about the loss of someone you feel like you've always known but never met. That's what I imagine a lot of basketball fans are going through right now. Kobe Bryant felt like a fixture in a lot of our lives and most of us never got a chance to meet him.
I never met Kobe, but I was lucky enough to see him play on multiple occasions. When news broke of his untimely death I thought about the time spent defending him and his basketball legacy. I'm a Kobe fan. Kobe and Vince Carter, they're the reasons why I fell in love with the game.
I watched Michael Jordan play, and will always admire him. But growing up in Canada, a hockey fan first, MJ never really sucked me in. Maybe I was too young or maybe it was just something about his game. Whatever the reason, he didn't connect with me.
MJ wasn't my guy. But Kobe sure was.
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When it felt like the world wanted the Lakers to lose in the early 2000s I was standing proudly alongside the vocal minority ready to celebrate them win. More important than wanting the Lakers to win? I wanted Kobe to win. We knew Shaq was the man, but Kobe was our man - he was our guy.
When Shaq left the Lakers for the Heat we dug our heels into the dirt even more. All of those "I told you sos" turned up the heat on our burning desire to watch Kobe win once more. And when the Lakers finally resurfaced, we had our moment because Kobe had HIS moment.
That journey feels like a lifetime ago and yet it fits within a 20-year window. The ups and downs, trials and tribulations, the redemption… truly a lifetime of memories packed within two decades. In the grand scheme of things, 20 years is nothing.
It's probably why the news hit so hard. Even though we've felt like we've known Kobe forever our time with him was far too short. We knew Kobe the basketball player but we were just starting to learn about Kobe the man. We were just starting to see what he was about outside of basketball.
Kobe the producer. Kobe the author. Kobe the visionary. Kobe the thinker. Kobe the coach. Kobe the father.
For all that he accomplished on the court, he was already well on his way to accomplishing even more off of the court. Kobe inspired and touched lives in ways few can even dream of.
I'm still in shock that someone that was so attached to my childhood and love for the game I'm now lucky enough to get paid to cover is gone. It hit me the most when my younger brother Clarence called to talk to me Sunday night. Just about Kobe and the memories he and I shared together watching him.
I took Clarence to his first NBA game. It was a Laker game in Toronto against the Raptors. We watched the first three and a half quarters from what was called "the Sprite Zone" at the time - the nosebleeds if you will. Then we did what every NBA fan has done since the beginning of time: scoop out empty seats in the lower bowl and plot on how we'd get there.
The Lakers were in town which is usually a sellout so empty seats in the lower bowl were hard to come by. Nevertheless, we found them.
We wandered down to the lower bowl and into a section where an unsuspecting usher - like so many - was far too entranced by a tight game featuring Kobe Bryant to notice two ambitiously wide-eyed fans sneak past and into the only vacant seats left in her section. Every fan that's ever done this understands the adrenaline rush pulsating through the veins at that moment.
The fourth quarter was underway and it felt as if we missed most of it peering over our shoulders worried about getting caught. When we finally locked into the game the Raptors were up - a bad bad Raptors team mind you. There were just under two minutes left and Aaron Gray was on the floor - Aaron Gray!
Anyway down four Kobe took over the game. He drilled a three to put the Lakers down one, stole the ball on the next possession and hit a trailing Metta World Peace for a layup to take the lead. The Raps got fouled next trip down and Jose Calderon nail both free throws with just 17 seconds left.
Everyone in the Air Canada Centre knew what time it was - it was Kobe time.
And everyone knew where the ball was going - it was going to Kobe - no matter what. We were about to watch a master at work. Kobe somehow broke away from two Raptors caught the ball rose up and drained a 17-footer. It was the loudest I've ever heard a gym up until that point in my life.
There's nothing like it. The anticipation. The inevitable outcome. Being in an NBA arena where everyone knows where the ball is going and everyone knows who's going to take the shot and it falls through the hoop anyways. Since then I've been lucky enough to see it happen live with LeBron, Kawhi and others. Sometimes greatness is just too great for the other team to combat. That was the first time I had seen it live though, a profound memory that holds a special place in my heart as I was able to share it with my brother.
That day he became a Kobe fan. That day we bonded over sports. That day Kobe Bryant forever changed our relationship.
It's hard to explain to a non-sports fan why we spend so much time consuming the games as we do. Or why we argue over it as much as we do. Or why a loss in the middle of the regular season can ruin your mood for a whole day. But other sports fans get it. It's that extreme passion that unites us all.
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I was searching for the words to talk about the sadness that I feel about Kobe Bryant's death - a man I never met - and realized my connection to him wasn't one of fan and player. It was the connection of passion - a passion for the game we love. A passion that even though many of us will never meet, we all understand it. We all get it. We all love this game as much as Kobe did, that's why we were connected to him.
Someone asked me a long time ago if I had the chance to meet Kobe what would I say. I had no idea at the time, but I do now.
I'd simply say thank you.
Thank you for the memories.
Thank you for the inspiration.
Thank you for a stronger bond with my brother, Clarence.
Thank you for helping me connect with so many other great people through the game of basketball, for cultivating relationships that have led me to this very place at this very moment in time.
Thank you, Kobe.
Rest in peace.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.