I REMEMBER the first time I saw Kobe Bryant play basketball as a fearless rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it is something that played a significant role in my love for the game today.

The NBA and sporting world was rocked by the news that legendary figure Bryant died in a helicopter crash just outside Los Angeles on Sunday, along with eight others that also included his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who had ambitions to follow in her father’s footsteps.

This tragedy has seen a huge outpouring of grief from across the globe, which highlighted the impact Bryant made during an illustrious career that spanned two decades.

He is a five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA finals Most Valuable Player and made the All-NBA team on no fewer than 15 occasions.

Bryant was also the 2008 league MVP, made the All-Star game 18 times and the All-Defence team on 12 occasions.

The 41-year-old finished his career third on the all-time scoring list until he was passed by LeBron James a day before his premature death, and was first in points scored, games played and games won in Lakers’ history.

Those statistics put him in the higher echelons of players that have ever taken to a basketball court, but it is his the lasting legacy on the NBA that will transcend the test of time.

Bryant’s work ethic is legendary and inspired a new generation of players to adopt the same mind set in order to achieve their goals.

His attitude and success made him the face of the NBA as it became a global brand for the first time, especially in areas such as China and the Far East.

Although he had some bumps along the way it is clear the sport would not be where it is today without the incredible contribution Bryant made throughout his career.

What basketball fan could forget his 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors? His iconic three-peat alongside Shaq with the Lakers? The fact he took two free throws with a torn Achilles? But my favourite Bryant moment was undoubtedly his game winner against the Phoenix Suns in 2006, where he dragged his team kicking and screaming over the hump to an improbably victory.

That typified his character and will to win, and his 60-point effort during his final ever NBA game was a fitting end to what was one of the greatest professional careers for any sportsman in history.

Even though I have spent my life supporting the New York Knicks, you could not help but admire Bryant’s attitude and unrivalled competitive edge, the way he drove others around him to be better and his ability to take on any occasion with a flawless demeanour.

This made him one of my sporting heroes and his death is probably the first of its kind that has really affected me emotionally as a person and a father.

He may not have been universally liked during the prime of his career, but the great ones rarely are.

An Academy Award for his short film entitled ‘Dear Basketball’ followed in retirement, but it was his love for his family and in particular Gianna’s growing love and aspirations within a basketball environment that almost humanised Bryant more once he had taken his final competitive shot.

His face visibly lit up whenever you heard him talk about ‘GiGi’ and her desire to keep the Bryant basketball tradition going, which makes this even more heart breaking when you consider just how much life she had in front of her.

We will never hear Bryant’s Hall of Fame speech, or anything about Gianna’s probable rise to stardom, but the ‘Mamba Mentality’ is something that will live on through the ages and remain a benchmark that young NBA players can testify as being a prominent reason they have made it to the very top.

That is more important than any championship ring, any scoring title or All-Star appearance, and you can only imagine what his wife Vanessa and three other children are going through now.

Bryant was a transcendent sportsman who motivated a generation and provided fans like me a lifetime of unforgettable memories that we can cherish and remember until we too are no more.

It is desperately sad for the families involved, and it should make you cherish those around you, forget about your differences and appreciate loved ones even more.

For tomorrow is not guaranteed, even to one of the greatest athletes who ever lived.