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Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant
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Gallant: What about Kobe Bryant’s legacy makes his death hit so hard

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday in a helicopter crash. (AP)

I didn’t think that the death of someone I’ve never met could affect me. And yet here I am, still sitting in a zombie-like stupor, unable to process this: Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others took off in a helicopter on Sunday morning to attend a basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in California. Tragically, they never made it.

NBA legend Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna killed in helicopter crash

Death is a certainty in life. We live. We die. And along the way, we strive to do things that our family and friends will remember us for.

There were seven other victims in the helicopter crash:

• John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College

• Keri Altobelli

• Alyssa Altobelli, John and Keri’s daughter who played on the same basketball team as Gianna

• Sarah Chester

• Payton Chester, the daughter of Sarah, another teammate of Gianna’s

• Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Harbor Day School, where Kobe’s daughter attended school. Her nickname “‘MOD” stood for “Mother of Defense”

• Ara Zobayan, a helicopter pilot who taught others to fly

Coaches. Teachers. Young athletes. I can only imagine what their families, friends, and the many people whose lives they touched are going through. There are few things more tragic than losing someone so suddenly and unexpectedly without a chance to say goodbye. Sadly, this is something that happens every day.

But when someone larger than life like Kobe Bryant dies, it hits home a little bit differently. It shouldn’t be that way. For me, and much of the sports obsessed world, it’s the reality. Why is that?

I did own his jersey as a kid despite being a Celtics fan. What can I say, I liked those late 90s/early 2000s teams! Also, at the time the Celtics… were bad. Maybe I’ve always been a front-runner.

That jersey vanished after his rape allegations. I don’t know what happened to it. As far as those allegations? Kobe apologized in a public statement after the case, reached a settlement in civil court, bought his wife an incredibly large diamond ring, and moved on with his life.

Should he have had the opportunity to continue playing a game for a living? Did it make him a better man?

This article isn’t about answering those questions. But between that and an eventual dislike of that Lakers uniform, I actively rooted against Kobe Bryant for the majority of his career.

As time went on, I viewed him more as a control-freak ball hog than a one-man basketball army. In the 2008 and 2010 finals, I wanted my Celtics to destroy him. And while others celebrated it, I hated his ridiculous 60-points-on-a-million-shots (OK, 50) performance in his last career “game.”

Yet here I am, trying to find the words to describe a 41 year old man who entertained, touched, and inspired so many, and died way too early.

That global impact – it’s incredible. And it’s why I feel the way I do right now.

I might be reaching a little bit, but he even indirectly touched my life. Between my junior and senior years of high school in 2005, I went to a sports broadcasting camp in Philadelphia directed by Jeremy Treatman. Jeremy knew Bryant when he was just 12 in Philadelphia, then coached him at Lower Marion High School. That camp confirmed to me that sports broadcasting was the career for me. Does that camp exist without the impact that Kobe had on Jeremy?

I didn’t get to see all of Michael Jordan’s career, but I did get to see all of Kobe’s. His confident defiance and casual sneering on the court made for an almost mythological character, an unapologetic villain who would not relent until he’d destroyed you completely. You always knew he was out there, and that he was always worthy of respect. Even in the game where he shot free throws with a torn Achilles.

His pursuit of perfection – the Mamba Mentality – was his calling card. It’s something that’s just… American. The idea that you can have everything you want if you work hard enough. Or in the case of Kobe, outwork everyone.

But he took that pursuit further. He wasn’t just a one-trick pony. His curiosity has taken him down some incredible paths, and one can only imagine where it could have taken him in a post-basketball world. Come on, he even won an Oscar for his first film venture!

The most recent path, though, is a particularly heartbreaking one. Coach Kobe Bryant and his relationship with Gianna, his oldest daughter. If you take a listen to Kobe’s visit on the Ledlow and Parker podcast from earlier this year, you can hear exactly why he nicknamed her “Mambacita.”

That special relationship had only just begun. And we’ll never get to see where it would take them.

When we put an athlete up on a pedestal, we sometimes dehumanize them along the way. It’s a strange byproduct of hero worship. We forget that these larger than life figures are only a few genes away from being… us. They have families. They have daughters. They make mistakes. But we never think we’ll lose them forever. Especially in their prime, and with so much life left to live.

We have zero control over when our journey through this world will come to an end, no matter how badly we want it. So all we can do is make the most out of the ride, by:

• Living life with an unrelenting curiosity.

• Doing the things we love with an intensity that can’t be matched.

• And never yielding to our own self doubt.

It’s how Kobe Bryant did it. RIP.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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