Kobe Bryant’s been agonizingly gone ⎯ along with eight others, including his hoops-playing daughter, Gianna ⎯ for nearly two weeks. I’ve gotten nothing but grief-stricken memories from local readers. One is just as gut-wrenching and heartfelt as the next.

Photos on some of those memories are included, of course. 

Kobe, it was well-known, had visited Redlands more than a few times. Topping that list might well have been a time when he showed up with wife Vanessa and girls, including Gianna, to watch a friend play in a basketball game at the local YMCA.

The request was, no autographs, please. He might’ve signed a few. And, please, no media. He was good about such requests.

Just watching him walk into the “Y” at Citrus Avenue and Redlands Boulevard ⎯ well, really Olive Street ⎯ was worth, at least to anyone watching, the price of admission.

There’s some area connection to the Bryant family. Much of that talk revolves around Vanessa’s family ⎯ from East Highlands Ranch ⎯ owning the now-closed Las Brasas Mexican Restaurant on State Street in downtown Redlands.

Those photos, not to mention my own memories from watching 20 seasons of this Laker phenom, are simple:

This 6-foot-7 “Mamba” was about as elusive, quick, quick-minded, quick-striking, strong, athletic, smart, decisive, tenacious, unyielding, genius with a ball -- all while being graceful -- is the best I can summarize what I’ve been reading from letters.

As a columnist-with-a-heart, though, I can’t overlook some of the best posts after that disastrous accident:

* Daren Espinoza: “If athletes in any sport played the game like Kobe Bryant, with an unapologetic desire to win, I don’t know if the world would be perfect, but it would be pretty close to it.”

* Lots coming from Ricky Peetz, perhaps the most memorable was when Kobe visited the Redlands YMCA, with family, to watch a friend play:

“I remember the day,” said Michael Donahue.

“Holding Gianna,” said Julie Schofield Mendoza.

“We were there,” said Chrissy Greenley Fitch.

Said Charlie Crosby: “I … remember working that day when he came in.”

* Part of Ron Gueringer’s comments could be termed tear-jerking: “...as the father, the helplessness of their final seconds and not being able to help …”

Dozens of comments, but all added up, it’s amazing how many dads are clinging to their little girls ⎯ #kobelovesgianna?

Here’s the basketball part, though:

Folks, there are bunches and bunches of 6-foot-7 basketball players out there. They’ve been spotted locally at places like Cal State San Bernardino, Riverside City College, California Baptist University, San Bernardino Valley ⎯ you name it.

I’ve sat courtside at media row inside those sites, watching great, athletic, Kobe-sized hoopsters. Something’s missing. They didn’t have what Kobe had.

I think people may believe that because Kobe was 6-7, that he was the son of a highly-respected NBA player, that he was drafted at age 17 … that he was just destined to play well.

No.

Here’s the thing that separates the “Mamba” from all those wannabes:

Kobe hit the gym ⎯ hard. That’s one thing I’ve heard more than anything since that tragic, Jan. 26, Sunday morning, whether it was coming from Kareem, Magic or Jerry West or LeBron or Shaq, that Kobe worked hard at developing his game. Really hard. Way hard. Genius hard. Legendary hard. That was their common message about Kobe, the athlete.

A thousand shots at practice.

Two hours of training at, say, 4 in the morning.

Many of those thousand shots were developing game-style moves.

Pushing himself harder than most would dare push themselves.

It’s no cliché. Part of that Shaq-Kobe rift might’ve been that the Lakers’ seven-footer didn’t push himself hard enough. Not everyone does.

Shaq on his missed opportunity: “... to say if we’d stayed together, we could’ve gotten 10 rings…”

What was that, you asked? You want to be a serious athlete? Any sport?

Try it Kobe’s way. Just for kicks. 

(Got a sports tip? Want to talk sports? Contact me at baseballolb@hotmail.com.)