A legendary show
Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to attend many top-level sports events.
An NRL rugby league grand final, multiple All Blacks and Silver Ferns test matches and even a couple of NHL ice hockey games.
Last week, I was able to add another milestone to that list when I got to watch one of my favourite basketball players of all time in the flesh, Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant.
Bryant was one of the key reasons I became hooked on the sport of basketball in the mid-1990s at primary school. Back in those days, he had only just entered the league and was coming off the bench for the Lake Show.
As an impressionable youngster, I remember being mesmerised by his amazing talents and thinking this guy was destined for a huge future.
Bryant put on a show for me the other night, scoring 31 points, while dishing out six assists, as the Lakers overwhelmed the Milwaukee Bucks in front of a sellout Staples Centre home crowd.
Funnily enough, there were a few anxious moments about whether I would actually get to watch the game.
My brother and I decided to make the trip out to Santa Monica and the surrounding Venice Beach earlier in the day, but got stuck in one of Los Angeles' notorious traffic jams on the way home.
The hour-long journey ended up taking 2 hours and we ended up missing the player introductions and the opening minutes of the game.
Bryant has carved out an outstanding career in the NBA and will go down as one of the greatest basketballers to ever play the game.
His record speaks for itself . The man, who is named after a piece of Kobe beef, which his parents enjoyed in a restaurant one night, has won five NBA championships with the Lakers, and is a 15-time NBA All Star.
He's made the All-NBA first team 10 times before, and is also a two-time finals MVP.
Bryant has been a prolific scorer, winning two NBA scoring championships, and averaging a tick over 25 points a game during his career. In 2007, he became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 points, at just 27 years of age.
Six years ago, he sent the statisticians scrambling for the record books after dropping 81 points down on the hapless Toronto Raptors.
That was the second highest individual points tally during an NBA game, with only Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point effort in 1962 bettering Bryant.
What I love the most about Bryant's play is his ability to hurt an opposition side in so many different ways.
He is a deadly outside shooter, but can just as easily get away on the fast break, or take the ball to the hoop from a driving run inside the keyhole.
He also has an uncanny ability to knock down shots that not many players are able to do.
I've watched games where he's been triple-teamed from deep beyond the three-point line, but still been able to drain the basketball with the shot clock winding down.
Bryant will be remembered for his scoring prowess, but what most people often forget about him is his skills as a defender. Throughout his career, he's regularly been tasked with shutting down the best scorer on the other side.
His selection as a nine-time all-NBA first team defensive player illustrates how he has multiple facets to his game.
What is most scary about Bryant is that he does not really seem to show any sign of slowing down. He's 34 years of age, and is in his 17th year in the league, but sits second in the NBA scoring averages for the season with 29 points a game.
Bryant might not have the explosive pace he had a decade ago, but knows he can still contribute in a variety of ways and pour in 30 points a game on any given night.
If you're ever in Los Angeles, make sure you get along to a Lakers' home game. Even if you have no interest in basketball, the event is a spectacle in itself.
The Southland Sharks and "Big Daddy" put on a great show at their National Basketball League games, but the Lakers' entertainment is another world away.
If you peer over at the courtside seating, you'll also spot an array of Hollywood celebrities too, including arguably the Lakers' biggest fan, legendary actor Jack Nicholson.
The Southland Times