It was just a 30-minute Skype call, but it meant everything to the biggest Kobe Bryant fan in St. Louis.

In November 2012, Dwann Dillon was a healthy, 39-year-old youth basketball coach and referee, a 6-foot-4 Army vet and a local barber who’d played high school ball for the Riverview Gardens Rams. He awoke one morning with a crippling stomachache, and he couldn’t use the bathroom, and he couldn’t go to work with his wife, Buffy, at the salon they owned.

She drove him to the Veterans Administration hospital emergency room. He left with medicine. It helped. But the pain returned five days later, and Buffy was more concerned when she rushed him back to the ER. Doctors operated to remove what they believed was a simple blockage.

“When they opened my husband up, he was already at stage 4 colon cancer,” Buffy Dillon said by phone Tuesday. He left the hospital and went home to die. “They gave him six months to live. We brought him home on hospice. He survived nine months."

The last month was the best.

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The pain was constant, but Dillon was tough. He didn’t ask for much. In fact, as Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care made him comfortable in his final weeks, he had only one request, which they provided through the Dream Foundation. He wanted a 5-minute phone call from his favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant.

He got much more.

In July of 2013, Bryant sent Dillon two autographed jerseys. He sent a signed basketball. And Bryant didn’t make a 5-minute call.

On July 13, Kobe and his wife, Vanessa, spoke with Dwann and Buffy for 30 minutes, via Skype.

“They discussed Kobe’s specific moves. Specific ideas. They went back and forth about strategies,” Buffy said. “It was like they had been friends forever.”

They spoke the same language: ball.

When the call ended, Dwann beamed. For the first time in months. For hours. For days. Until the end.

Dwann Dillon died 19 days later, Aug. 1, 2013 in St. Louis. He was 40.

Kobe Bryant died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. He was 41.

His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was among the other eight passengers killed. There were no survivors.

Buffy’s shop is closed on Sundays, but she occasionally accepts private clients in the afternoon, after church. She was in the salon, curling hair, when the news popped up on her client’s Twitter timeline. “You’re lying,” Buffy said. She turned on CNN.

Her mouth fell open. Her eyes got wide. She stopped curling hair. She sat down, and she started speaking.

“I ‘talked’ to Dwann‚” Buffy said. “I told him, ‘Now you and Kobe can continue your conversation in person.’ ”

The Dillons never dreamed that the initial conversation would come about.

“I was super surprised that it even happened. I was so grateful for Kobe and Vanessa to take any of their time to basically do something for little ol’ us. It touched our hearts,” Buffy said. “And I was so, so happy we could make Dwann smile in the worst time of his life.”

You’ve heard stories like this about Kobe before. You will hear stories like this for months. Bryant left Philadelphia and Lower Merion High School in 1996 for the NBA, young and raw and driven. He grew to be a man of great generosity, warmth, and compassion; a fine father and husband. In 2013, he was international royalty, a basketball god, and busy beyond measure, but he knew full well what a few minutes of talking ball would mean to a dying man whose passion for the game, and whose focus on sports and youth, matched his own.

The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation is “dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need,” according to its website. That sounds a lot like the community day that the Dillons’ salon sponsored for three years before Dwann’s death: a small summer festival for kids, with free food, a bounce house, a pony ride, and backpacks stuffed with school supplies.

It also sounds like the Dwann Dillon Colon Cancer Foundation, which Buffy started in 2013. It not only sponsors the community day, but it also supports domestic-abuse victims, children’s homes, homeless shelters, and, of course, cancer victims.

Two fine basketball men, gone much too young. Two loving widows left to carry on. The parallels are profound, and sad, but they are inexact. The Dillons had no children, and Buffy got to say goodbye to Dwann.

“My heart goes out to Vanessa on so many levels. I just lost my husband; she lost her husband and her baby,” Buffy said. “The grief that she has right now is unbelievable. I’m sure that only God is keeping her from going under.”

Buffy paused. She was at work, and she’d been talking about this for 20 minutes. She’s 48. She has not remarried; never come close, really. Dwann died, gently, and that was almost seven years ago. Kobe had been ripped from this world for less than two days.

“This was instantaneous death. That is horrible. It is way worse,” Buffy said. "At least I had nine months more with Dwann.”

And, in the eighth month, Kobe Bryant granted his very last request.