Leonard Thomas: Kobe Bryant's second act would also have been special
The Laker legend was a unique talent who would have walked new ground off the court
For a long time, it seemed as if only basketball mattered to him.
Growing up in Italy, the young dreamer played relentlessly and went to bed clutching his ball every night.
His relentless work ethic even after he became a superstar has become the stuff of legend.
As the clock wound down on a remarkable NBA career, you wondered what Kobe Bryant's post-basketball life would look like.
A little less than four years after he retired from the game he so loved, we were beginning to get a glimpse of it, and it makes his death even more heartbreaking.
Former US President Barack Obama said Bryant, 41, was "just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act" and, now, we are left to wonder what might have been.
Nearing the end of his 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant, one of the greatest to play the game, penned a heartfelt poem telling basketball why he had to leave the game.
He turned it into a moving short animated film, Dear Basketball, and won an Oscar in 2018. His children's book series The Wizenard, inspired by his love for Harry Potter, topped the New York Times bestseller's list.
He started an investment firm, launched an academy for basketball and a company for animation, storybook and multimedia projects, along with a slew of sponsorship tie-ups.
This was not the well-worn transition into a coaching job, or the usual move into a comfortable seat in the commentary booth.
Bryant intended to launch animated projects for African-American audiences and underrepresented artists.
Just when it looked as if he was going to break new ground outside of the court, tragedy struck and cut him down, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Making us cry.
Powered by Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant, the Lakers' franchise made Hollywood swoon again as it stormed to three successive NBA crowns in 1999-2000, 2000-2001 and 2001-2002.
A glorious tale was being scripted - only for Bryant's world to be so nearly derailed when he was accused of rape in 2003.
A criminal case was dropped and Bryant, then 24, made no admission to sexual assault as he settled a civil suit after admitting to an adulterous sexual encounter.
A young marriage was in jeopardy, but husband and wife worked it out and Bryant went on to become a man who thrived.
By the time he retired in 2016, he had won five NBA titles and was an 18-time All-Star.
He was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2008 and NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010, and led the US to two Olympic gold medals.
He remains the youngest NBA All-Star in history, having been selected in the 1997-98 season aged 19 years 169 days.
He had four daughters and a wife who looked on adoringly as the Lakers celebrated his final game in an emotional send-off at the Staples Center, where he scored a stunning 60 points in a win over the Utah Jazz.
Maybe this tragedy hurts so much because Bryant grew up in front of our eyes.
Arguably the closest thing to Michael Jordan, Bryant, like the greatest, always demanded the ball in the dying moments with the game on the line.
He told me in an interview in 2009 that he never feared the weight of such a responsibility.
He loved the game, so imagine the surprise when he revealed recently that he had turned away from basketball only for Gianna to draw him back in.
He was tutoring her and coaching her team, they were on their way to a match when the helicopter crashed.
This was not how Bryant's story was supposed to end but, for a little while at least, he played basketball with his daughter.