When we first met Kobe Bryant, he was not the Black Mamba. He was just a high school kid with big sunglasses and bigger dreams.
The year was 1996 and we were still new to this high school-to-NBA thing. Kevin Garnett had done it the year before and been decent, but he was 6'11" with an even longer wingspan. Bryant was a 6'6" guard with athleticism and those were a dime-a-dozen in the NBA back then.
But it did not matter if no one else thought he was ready. Bryant knew and that was all that mattered.
Twenty years later, it is pretty clear he knew something the rest of the world did not.
Bryant's time in the NBA has been full of drama. Good and bad. He's been a cocky rookie, reluctant sidekick, a selfish villain who broke up a dynasty, an unforgiving leader, and an old pro who held on a bit too long.
More than almost any other athlete, we have seen Kobe Bryant grow from a boy to a man in front of our eyes. He has come of age as the internet grew from awkward adolescent into the what it is today, just like the man himself. His personal and professional life has been under a microscope that even Michael Jordan did not have to deal with in his heyday.
We have seen him kissing the NBA championship trophy and we have seen him berate his Los Angleles Lakers team-mates when things were going wrong and hug them when they made him proud.
For a whole generation of basketball fans, there is no NBA without Kobe Bryant. He is all they know. Before Curry. Before LeBron. After Jordan. After Iverson. He is their basketball barometer of greatness.
However you view Bryant, you have to admit that he put on one hell of a show for a long time.
So whatever happens Wednesday night when the Utah Jazz come to Staples Center see Bryant off, everyone should leave the theatre feeling like they got value for money out of Kobe Bean Bryant.