I think Bill Simmons said it best many years ago when he was writing at ESPN: Those players who your grandma can name, those are your generational players. Those players who transcend sports and will be remembered for ever.

We think of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Kobe Bryant.

Sure, there are others but the outpouring of respect and tears that flowed on Sunday shows that Kobe is one of those players.

Bryant, 41, passed away Sunday morning in Calabasas, California when a helicopter, who was carrying his daughter Gianna, 13; John Altobelli; Keri Altobelli; Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Ara Zobayan; Sarah and Payton Chester, crashed.

Kobe is best remembered for his moments on the basketball court where he won rings, scoring titles and had an almost religious following. He mentored young athletes and drove the game of basketball to new heights as the game transitioned with the retirement of Michael Jordan.

For me, a guy who grew up loving the NBA and later covering it for a decade, the passing of Kobe on Sunday morning hits home. He was my first interview when I was first a credentialed media member. He was the first person I spoke to when I went to All-Star Weekend and when I covered the Olympics in 2012.

It wasn’t by choice it was luck by who was made available first. Though, none of that is my finest memory of Bryant.

What I remember most about Kobe. It’s not the 60-point win in his final game of his career. It’s not him knocking out my Thunder in the 2010 playoffs. It was February 2012 and the Lakers had arrived in Oklahoma City after playing that night but there was about 100 people or so standing outside of the Skrivin Hotel, waiting for the Lakers.

Me, a young pup reporter but fascinated with seeing Kobe in person for the first time. I didn’t interact with him that day. I watched as he signed autographs and took pictures with everyone. Even though Laker officials were telling him to go inside. He waved them off, took pictures, signed autographs and made everyone’s year.

I didn’t talk to him about that night as it felt as it was understood he probably does everywhere but to witness someone take the fans so seriously in that moment is a moment I won’t forget. For me, shows how Kobe transcends more than just basketball.

Though, Kobe wasn’t perfect. He had his run in with controversy. He was accused of rape in Colorado in 2003. The prosecutors would drop the charges and Kobe would settle out of court in a civil case on the same matter.

His involvement with his daughter post career has been well documented as his “Mamba” AAU team thrived through his coaching. His daughter, Gianna, was a beacon on that team. They were on the way to her tournament with her teammates when the helicopter crashed on Sunday.

Kobe’s drive was labeled as the “Mamba mentality.” He often hated losing and worked tirelessly to hone his craft. No better example than when he played three more seasons after tearing his achilles, an injury that has been the death of many NBA careers.

They don’t make them like Kobe anymore. Love him or hate him, he is more than a basketball star. He’s a generational icon that was taken away too soon. 

He’s an icon and will ever be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He’ll always be that guy who sacrificed an hour of sleep to make some a 10-year-old’s day. one cold morning in Oklahoma City.