Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020

Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post

Former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, seen here in October 2018, died in a helicopter crash in California Sunday.

There are times when the utter randomness of life breaks through the window and stares you in the face.

Such was this afternoon. Sunday afternoon. A beautiful, unseasonably warm day in Boston. The shocking news of Kobe Bryant’s death sent a tremor through the world of everyone who had seen his basketball ballet and even those who’d known of him simply from the pantheon of famous people.

After a few moments, the paralysis of the report and confirmation dissolved into a flood of images, personal and, befitting the situation, random.

The breadth of his incredible 20-season career — the special games, the records, the supporting numbers — will permeate media coverage these next days and months, and, really, it’s not like that information has ever been far from reach. It’s not as if, when LeBron James passed him Saturday night for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, anyone stopped to say, “Oh, yeah. Kobe Bryant. Now I remember.”

Kobe Bryant was destined to be unforgettable, and the obsessive nature of his work ethic assured that every speck of innate talent would be realized.

The Kobe that was running through my mind this afternoon was the one I got to know, the one whose personality was at least as interesting as his game.

The league was still trying to get a read on this 18-year-old hoarder of field goals attempted when he took to the court in Cleveland for the 1997 All-Star weekend Rookie Game.

After one particularly presumptuous shot — one of his game-high 17 tries that led to a game-high 31 points — Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times turned and said, “That’s Kobe. Talented, comma, nuts.”

The song remained largely the same three seasons later when Phil Jackson came to Los Angeles and opened a West Coach branch of the triangle offense. The Celtics were scheduled for a road game against the Clippers in late December, 1997, and I flew in early to see the Lakers. Afterward, a friend on the coaching staff and I met up for a late dinner. Having seen Kobe dart and dash around Staples Center, I asked the coach to estimate what percentage of the time he was running the stuff.

The coach laughed.

“He’s up to about 50 percent now,” he said. “The funny thing is that, with the triangle, he not only has to beat his man but also our guys who are in the way.”

He laughed again.

“And he does it.”

Later that season, Kobe won the first of his five championships. There were three straight with Shaquille O’Neal and validation for the greatness of this kid with the temerity to seek entry into the NBA direct from high school. But it wasn’t until Bryant and the Lakers fell to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals that he got to bathe more fully in the lore of the league.

If you are a Celtic fan mourning the loss of a rival, know that Kobe Bryant relished each meeting with Boston — Finals or not. And he loved hearing tales of the old days or anecdotes from the present. When I told him a friend’s young hoop prodigy son had been given the nickname Little Kobe, he smiled and said, “That must be going over real big up there.”

As a knee injury knocked him from the 2013-14 season, he made time for a Boston reporter, requesting a meeting in an out of the way spot at the Lakers’ practice facility to avoid greater attention while his teammates were practicing yards away.

There he spoke of how he planned to travel to the Garden anyway that season.

“I love it,” he told the Herald. “I love going into Boston. I love playing there. I mean, the fans are incredible, because, you know, they’re nasty, but they appreciate the game. They appreciate good basketball. They appreciate players who go out there and just leave it all on the court. You know, friend or foe, they have an appreciation for it.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I’m going to interact a little bit with the crowd, absolutely. I’ll have a chance to kind of look around and look at the numbers in the rafters and kind of appreciate it a little bit more. Absolutely, because when you play, you know, you’ve got your blinders on. You’ve got tunnel vision. This will be good.”

He talked of his predraft workout with the Celtics, getting put through his paces by assistant coach Dennis Johnson: “Oh, man, I didn’t want to go, because I was such a Lakers fan. And then I went and I had the best time. I had the best time. I was like, these guys aren’t that bad. D.J.’s actually a really great guy, and it’s not as bad as I thought playing on a green floor.”

He talked of losing to the Celts in the ’08 Finals, how the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” was ringing in his ears from the Garden sound system and how he’d played it that summer during his workouts as motivation. The Lakers won the title in ’09 and took out the Celtics in seven games the following year.

I told Kobe I could put him in touch with Murphys’ singer Ken Casey, who was big on the idea, too. But Bryant, still not playing, arrived too close to game-time to chat with him over the phone when the Celtics played in L.A. later that season.

I was thinking about that recently — don’t know why — and vowed to try again to make their connection if I saw Bryant at All-Star weekend in Chicago next month.

But sometimes there is no more time. Life moves on. The paper needs this column filed. The music continues in the background here, and now Kate Bush is singing — “If I only could/I’d make a deal with God… Be running up that road/Be running up that hill” — and it’s harder to type.

Kobe Bryant ran to the top of the mountain and was on his way to conquering other peaks when he passed. The end is too abrupt.

If the random nature of existence teaches us anything, it is that we should take every opportunity presented to share time with friends, with family, with life. I’ll accept this reminder as one last gift from Kobe Bean Bryant, 1978-2020.