In sports, you know you’re in select company when you go by just one name.
Michael. Tiger. Shaq. Kareem. Magic. LeBron. I don’t have to give you their last names, you know them by heart.
And, of course, Kobe.
On Sunday, Kobe Bryant -- who is in the conversation for greatest NBA player of all time -- tragically died, along with his daughter and seven others, in a helicopter crash in California.
It not only has rocked the sports world, but the entire world in general. Kobe was wildly popular in both China and Italy, where he was revered like a rock star.
He was one of the few players ever to make the jump directly from high school to the NBA seamlessly. He was an All-Star in his second year and went on to earn that distinction 18 times in his 20-year career.
He was a five-time champion and MVP. He achieved everything there was to achieve and left the game on his own terms, scoring 60 points in the final game of his career.
I don’t believe Kobe ever quite reached the level of Michael and LeBron, but he’s right there rubbing elbows. He was known for his competitive fire and how much he detested losing. Jerry West, then the Lakers’ general manager, saw that in him as a 17-year-old in Philadelphia and made the historic draft day deal that brought him to the City of Angels from Carolina. It’s hard to imagine Kobe playing for another other team, he was born to be a star.
It was amazing to see the reaction of the NBA players and the various tributes. Many of today’s players grew up with Kobe as their hero, as Michael had long left the game, with Kobe – and later LeBron – assuming the mantle of best in the game.
Kobe’s passing casts a pall over the NBA season. I can only imagine how difficult it will be for Laker fans when they are home for the first time. Tonight’s game with the crosstown Clippers already has been postponed – it’s simply too soon as the town and franchise needs time to grieve.
Kobe was not entirely a saint as like anybody in life, he had his faults. But he worked hard to repair his image and did his best to make himself a better person.
Kobe, though, had started to develop his life after basketball, and was making his mark with numerous endeavors, while all along becoming a better husband and father. It’s such a tragedy, too, that his daughter was aboard the helicopter and we should grieve for them, as well as the seven others.
His daughter had such an unlimited future and the UConn women’s team honored her on Monday by leaving a uniform on a chair. It was her dream to play for the school and then carry on the Bryant name in the WNBA.
Rest in peace Kobe. Mamba out.