Growing up Kobe — What it’s like for these college basketball players to share a legendary name


For the current generation of college basketball players, Kobe Bryant was an icon. They dreamed of one day playing the game the way he did. He inspired them. They idolized him. He was “The Mamba” and they wanted to emulate his work ethic. In some cases, he was also the motivation behind their names. For college players named Kobe — or some variation of the name — the impact of the five-time NBA champion’s life and death carried different meanings. Here are the stories of a few collegiate athletes who share the name.

Kobe Brown, Missouri

Freshman forward; averaged 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in his first season with the Tigers

“My dad was a high school coach (Greg Brown, head coach at Lee High School in Huntsville, Alabama), and one of his players was getting recruited by Kobe Bryant’s dad, former La Salle assistant Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, years ago.

“He took him down there to visit in the mid-1990s and while he was down there, my dad went to one of Kobe Bryant’s high school games. He was impressed. After the game, he saw Kobe’s dad and he told him that if he were ever blessed to have a son, he would name him Kobe.

“Because of the name, I definitely had to play with a chip on my shoulder when I was younger. Some of my friends would say, ‘You ain’t Kobe’ or they’d call me ‘Fake Kobe.’ I just got used to it and I just kept doing what I did. I kept killing.

Kobe Webster, Nebraska

Junior guard, recently announced transfer to Nebraska from Western Illinois; averaged 17.1 points and 3.6 assists for WIU in 2019-20

“That’s who I wanted to be like because we had the same name. Obviously, he’s one of the greats. I tried to take the whole ‘Mamba Mentality’ and apply it to everything. It was just something that sparked my interest just because he was blowing up at the time. He was coming onto the scene around the time I was born and my parents liked the name so that was what they went with.

“People would look at you and they sort of judge you off your name. I don’t start the trash talk, but I can definitely finish it.

“I definitely thought I had to meet this standard and stay in the gym.

Kobi Bryant, Urbana University (Ohio)

Senior, midfielder/forward (soccer); started 18 games as a senior for the Division II Blue Knights, and 66 of 68 over her four-year career

“If I was a boy, my name was going to be Kobe with an ‘e.’ My name isn’t something people forget. But my mom was more of a Shaq fan.

“I played basketball until I was in eighth grade. But I had to quit because I couldn’t shoot. I could dribble. But everyone expects you to be good because of the name.

“But I like it. I like the pressure it brings you. I like the challenge.

“I went to St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio, where LeBron James went to high school. Everyone was like ‘Why aren’t you on the team?’ I would say, ‘Trust me, you don’t want me on the team.’

“But you definitely have to be more than an average person if your name is Kobe (Kobi) Bryant.

Kobby Ayetey, North Carolina Central

Junior, forward, averaged 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in his first season with NCCU in 2019-20 after transferring from Baltimore City Community College

“I wasn’t named after Kobe Bryant. In Ghana, where I’m from, a male born on a Tuesday is named ‘Kobby (COB-by).’ It’s my soul name.

“Growing up, I’d heard about Kobe Bryant, but I didn’t know much until I started playing basketball. People would just go ‘Kobe! Kobe!’ when they saw me. So, in Ghana, I started watching Kobe Bryant videos. During that time, I started learning about Kobe, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other players.

“I said to myself, ‘I guess I can be like Kobe one day.’ But then I was like, ‘Nah, he’s too nice.’

Kobe Wilson, Alcorn State

Junior, forward, averaged 3.3 points and 6.0 rebounds for ASU in 2019-20

“Yeah, my mom, she named me after Kobe Bryant. She was a Lakers fan, but she wasn’t, like, the biggest basketball fan.

“Growing up with the name Kobe? It was fun at times. But there was trash talk every now and then. There were definitely some people who wanted to challenge me just to see what I was all about.

“Back in middle school, it was actually crazy. During one game, I don’t even know how this opposing team even knew my name at the time. But they were talking a lot of trash before the game. We ended up beating them.

“I definitely took a lot of pride in my name. He was my favorite basketball player. I always felt like I had to work hard, even though I know I’m my own person. He definitely made me want to work harder and be different.

Kobe Dickson, Cornell

Sophomore, forward, averaged 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds for the Big Red in 2019-20

“My parents were Lakers fans before I was born. Then, they had the chance to adopt me and they thought I should be named after their favorite player.

“Growing up, on the basketball court, you’d hear, ‘You’re the not real Kobe.’ It just made me play harder, to be honest. I knew he wouldn’t respond. He would just cook them.

“I always felt like, if I wasn’t working my hardest, I’d be a disgrace to his name and him.

Kobe Langley, UNC Greensboro

Freshman, guard, averaged 0.8 points for the Spartans in 2019-20

“My grandfather picked out the name for me when I was born. He died a couple years ago. And since then, that always stuck with me. That was important to me.

“My grandfather loved Kobe. He loved to watch Kobe play. Me too. Growing up, I always had the Kobe jersey, his shoes. I was Kobe down to my feet.

“You’re holding up his name. He played with anger and he played with passion. When I played, I wanted to play just like that, with passion and anger.

Kobe Langley: ‘He played with anger and he played with passion. When I played, I wanted to play just like that.’ provided by UNCG Athletics

“That gives me the aspirations and the goals to be just like him. His relentlessness, his will to win, his heart was everything, all about basketball.

“My coach told us the news that Kobe Bryant had passed away during a team meeting.

“I know when I got the news about his death, I didn’t believe it. I had to go through 20-30 people to try to get something else, beside the real answer. Everybody was talking about it.

“I was in tears, myself, because he was somebody I looked up to and wanted to be like and now that he’s gone, it’s like, man …

“I feel like I have to try to be just like him.”


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