My “relationship” with Kobe Bean Bryant was always difficult to understand. As a Celtics fan, you never wanted to root for Kobe in the moment. It was impossible to root for anyone wearing Purple and Gold. But sometimes, I still found myself doing it. The aura of Kobe and what he meant to basketball changed everything.

I was just six-months old when Kobe got drafted into the NBA. The three-peat with the Lakers was some-what vague as I was only four-to-six years old. However, when I first started learning about the game there were three names that stuck with me. Paul Pierce (Celtics fan), Allen Iverson (played for 76ers as a PA kid) and Kobe. But why Kobe? I hate the Lakers.

At this time, I was a huge Gerry McNamara fan who was from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Being from my area, winning a national championship and playing for a legendary program like Syracuse inspired me to play. But when I found out Kobe was from Philadelphia, I was floored. How can someone so legendary like Kobe be from Pennsylvania? It didn’t seem possible.

I did some more research when I was in college, and I came to find out Kobe played against Scranton high school. Shocked was an understatement to my reaction. Not only did we lose to Lower Merion, we got 40-pieced. It truly wasn’t close, Scranton lost 79-39. Kobe finished the game with 25 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, four steals and assists. In three quarters.

As the years came and my fandom for basketball grew, one thing became clear I did not like Kobe Bryant. My knowledge on the Celtics vs Lakers made me come to that conclusion. At that time I hated him, Shaquille O’ Neal was gone. It was just Kobe, so it went to him. Unfair? Absolutely. As a kid though, fandom just worked that way. You had to have a villain, and Kobe was that guy. It didn’t help he was consistently great and hated the Celtics like I hated the Lakers.

By 2006-2007 both the Lakers and Celtics were mediocre. There didn’t seem to be much of a rivalry on the horizon. The very next year, that all changed. Celtics got the big-three and the Lakers got a squad and from 2008-2010 my life was stuck on basketball. The rivalry that both teams got into made me invest into loving the sport. When the Celtics beat the Lakers in 2008, I’d be lying if I didn’t enjoy every second of it. From the Game 4 comeback, to Game 6 blowout. Watching the MVP Kobe Bryant walk off that floor in Boston was magical.

The next two years, he made my life a living hell. He dominated every single night and I just wanted it to end. In 2009 we didn’t get that rematch, but we watched Kobe relish in glory as a champion once again. It seemed effortless and that scared me. Here comes 2010, and we finally get that rematch. No matter how much momentum the Celtics had, I knew the Lakers would win. Sure enough, the Lakers took the championship in Game 7. Kobe got his revenge and his fifth ring. That hurt more than any game could, but it gave me perspective.

For all the wrong reasons I hated Kobe, fandom clouds greatness. As a huge basketball fan, it made me realize he is one of the greatest in the world. Sadly, it wasn’t until his last few years I came to that realization. Watching him go through that final tour genuinely made me sad. Kobe gave me iconic moments that made me happy and sad. His last game against the Jazz when he scored 60 points made me realize how impactful he was to me loving the game of basketball.

Not only was Kobe a basketball legend, he was a mentor to all the players in the league. From LeBron James to Trae Young, everyone took inspiration from his dedication and love of the game. The reactions from players was heart-breaking, seeing tears roll down players eyes. They lost a brother and a mentor, the NBA family was hurting. How could you even think about playing basketball right now?

Kobe Bryant was a father and a tremendous one at that. When reports came out that he died, I was saddened. When other reports came out that Gianna Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter, was on that helicopter I was sickened. It couldn’t be true, there is just no way. They were both on their way to do incredible things. Gianna was well on her way to going into the WNBA and changing the entire league, I’m certain of it.

This morning I woke up and was even more saddened than I was yesterday. I cried multiple times, to the point where my head was hurting. Kobe and Gianna wasn’t supposed to be gone so soon, they had so much life to live. They were impacting the world as we knew it. This is a tragedy, but it’s a reminder of the same cliche line: “nothing in life is guaranteed.” Kobe coined the phrase “Mamba Mentality” and for the longest time I thought it was nonsense. I was wrong.

I turned 24 years-old four days ago, and its technically my “Kobe year” so this year is dedicated to him. You made me realize I need to appreciate greatness and set aside my fandom. Thank you Kobe for everything you did for the sport of basketball.

Rest In Power to those who passed…