Just a week ago, a good friend of mine gave me the best gift I could ask for — a basketball signed by Laker greats — Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Today, Kobe Bean Bryant, 5x NBA champion and my childhood idol, died at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gigi.

I write this blog post now while staring at the signed basketball thinking of this strange coincidence of events that are, of course, completely unrelated, but regardless have a world of meaning to me.

As a young girl growing up in LA who loved sports, Kobe was everything to me. I would proudly sport my #8 jersey into my elementary school hallways, and chose the #8 when I played center for my middle school basketball team. Kobe was and has always been a big supporter of females in sports both on and off the court, and watching him and all his greatness inspired me to want to work in sports one day.

Kobe stayed important to my life through high school as I wrote my first article on him as sports editor for my high school’s newspaper, The Ultra Violet. And continued through college when, my freshman year at USC, he played in his final game at the Staples Center.

Given I was a college student, there was no chance I would be getting a ticket into that last game. But regardless I went to LA Live, stood outside a fish restaurant showing the game on their small tv’s, and along with 500+ fans, screamed my heart out as he racked up 60 points against the Utah Jazz.

It was my ultimate goal to make it enough in life as a sports journalist that I could meet Kobe as he sat on the sidelines during a Lakers game or while getting inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, and even interview him.

But Kobe is gone. And so is a little part of me…

Instead, I’m left here writing this blog post and staring at a signed basketball from a man who I’d never get to meet.

So Kobe, thank you for your greatness. And most importantly, for pushing both little boys AND girls to follow their dreams.

Originally published at https://medium.com on January 27, 2020.