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Intelligence, integrity, intensity made Bryant a legend

The NBA lost one of its greatest basketball players Sunday.

Guard Kobe Bryant, who spent his entire 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was killed in a helicopter crash in California.

Even more tragic than the death of Bryant is his daughter Gianna was also killed in the crash. She was 13 years old and wanted to have a basketball career like her father.

My heart goes out to Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and their three other children, Natalia Diamante, 17, Bianka Bella, 3, and Capri Kobe, 7 months. I find it sad that young Capri Kobe will be reduced to hearing stories about her father’s storied legacy.

I’m also saddened for Jelly Bean and Pam Bryant, Bryant’s parents for losing their son at age 41.

I have a 26-year-old daughter and 17-month-old granddaughter and I’d be devastated to lose them. I don’t think I’d ever be able to recover from that.

I agree with the old adage: kids should not die before their parents.

I have a  connection with the legend commonly known throughout basketball circles as the “Black Mamba”. Bryant won five NBA titles between 1996 and 2016.

My first interaction came on Oct. 11, 2000 when the then-Charlotte Hornets played the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason contest at the New Orleans Arena, now known as the Smoothie King Center.

During those days, I was a sportswriter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and investigating to see if professional basketball could make a comeback in New Orleans.

I was among 20 reporters jumbled around Bryant and I asked him if the league could work in the Crescent City. I remember Bryant was optimistic.

Two years later, the Hornets moved to New Orleans. I ended up covering the Hornets for three years and always managed to attend a Lakers contest twice a year.

I never had a one-on-one interview with Bryant. Unless you were with ESPN, ABC, or NBC, such occurrences rarely happen in the print media.

I never was a Lakers fan, but I admired Bryant for bringing the three I’s to basketball: intensity, intelligence and integrity. Bryant was the last of the old-school breed, unlike today’s game where players want to form superteams.

In my opinion, Bryant is one of the 12 greatest basketball players of all time. The other 11 are Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Julius “Dr. J” Irving and LeBron James.

Thank you Kobe Bryant for your historic contribution to the NBA. Your legacy will be always remembered by generations for years to come.