The NBA lost a legend Sunday.
Kobe Bryant, gone too soon at the age of 41, died in a helicopter accident outside of Los Angeles in Calabasas. Nine people, in total, died as a result of the crash.
For those who saw him play, they watched in awe.
For those who covered him playing, they marveled at his relentless pursuit of perfection and high standards of excellence.
For those who played with him, they called him a brother.
Kobe Bryant set the standard for what preparation and work ethic looked like.
His relentless obsession for perfection is something the sports world may never see again.
He was a renaissance man.
It shouldn’t have happened like this.
Now, those who played with him, who learned from him, attempt to put into words where no words would do it justice.
But, they try anyways.
“I’ll never really be able to express the impact he had on my life,” Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum said Sunday night after the Trail Blazers 139-129 win over the Indiana Pacers. “My work ethic, my approach — our whole family, we were all Kobe fans.”
Kobe Bryant helped change the game of basketball. He spent 20 years playing with one team, the Los Angeles Lakers. It was there that he became a five-time NBA Champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and 18-time All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP, 11-time All-NBA First Team, nine-time All-Defensive First Team… the list goes on.
Kobe Bryant, whether you love him or hated him during his playing days, will go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history. He lived on a stratospheric superstar level.
That’s why, when other NBA players played against him, it was impossible not to notice.
“The first game of my career was against Kobe,” Damian Lillard said Sunday. “I don’t really get nervous or get butterflies. But, I walked on the court and was like that’s Kobe over there. I’ll always have that memory.”
“I always tell people, he was the guy that I was afraid to meet,” McCollum added. “Him and Michael Jordan. I knew LeBron growing up, so, although he’s Mount Rushmore great, Kobe was the one I didn’t really know. So, that was a guy I was afraid to meet.”
Bryant was the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points. He finished his career with 33,643 points. Just one day before his death, LeBron James surpassed Bryant for third all-time on the NBA’s scoring list.
Back in 2015, McCollum and Kobe shared a moment on the court, which he described after the fact.
“I’ve been watching you since I was a kid,” McCollum told Kobe. “I appreciate what you’ve done for the game and I appreciate your work ethic. People don’t understand what he’s been through and how much he appreciates the game. And coming back from all of those injuries, it takes a special type of person to mentally re-focus and come out and play at a high level.”
Beyond basketball, Bryant had many business ventures, which included those in and out of sports. He touched countless lives. Almost everyone has a Kobe Bryant story.
“Just to see the reception across the country, how many lives he impacted from people that didn’t even know him, that shows you how special he was outside of basketball,” McCollum added.
“I just pray for his wife and for his family because Lord knows what they’re going through right now.”