I was seven years old when I was first introduced to Kobe Bryant. It was 2001 and the San Antonio Spurs were battling his Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
The series wasn't especially memorable -- the Lakers swept the Spurs by an average of 22.2 points per game, with three victories over 20 points -- but the brilliance of Kobe was undeniable.
He averaged 33.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists while shooting 51.4 percent from field in the series.
His devastating peak would come much later, but 2001 Kobe was plenty good enough to take down the Spurs at the time. His 45-point performance set the tone for the series in Game 1.
More than that though, Kobe opened my eyes to the possibilities in a way that my seven-year-old mind couldn't process. He made basketball look easy. He played basketball the way I wanted to play basketball. Yes, he dominated the ball and took a high-volume of shots but he won games on his terms -- and, for awhile, he won basketball games often.
Now, many years later, Kobe isn't half the player he once was. His shooting percentage has nosedived to a career low and his body has deteriorated to the point that he's a liability.
Tonight will be Kobe's 46th and final appearance in San Antonio of his career in a place that he calls his "home away from home."
Even though it won't be the same Kobe, I'll always remember how he made me feel 15 years ago, watching him pick apart the Spurs with precision that he now lacks.
I'll remember the Kobe that gave the Spurs nightmares, the Kobe that sparred with Tim Duncan for many years, the Kobe that made the Spurs-Lakers rivalry fun and worth watching. Not the Kobe that is stumbling through his glorified farewell tour.
Matchup to watch: Kobe Bryant vs. Kawhi Leonard. Obviously. Kobe's last game in San Antonio will be spent in the horror show that is Kawhi Leonard Island -- which has to be the worst vacation imaginable.
Game prediction: Spurs by 16. That might even be a little generous.
For the Lakers fan perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll.
As always, Tony must dominate Fisher.