Months before I was born on June 24, 1998, my mother, Wanda, Grandma Mable and Great Grandma Nonie, all huddled around each other to figure out what my name would be.
About two years earlier, 17-year-old Kobe Bryant was drafted and traded by the Charlotte Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers on June 26, 1996.
My mother, an avid basketball fan and former player, fell in love with watching the Lakers while Lakers’ point guard Magic Johnson was in his prime. Watching how amazingly Kobe played, she decided the name Kobe had to be an option.
It was decided from a hat drawing that my name would be Coby, being named after a generational talent and fundamental foundation to my family lineage. My great grandfather, who was a freed black and Native American who bought my great grandmother her freedom, was named Cody. My mom felt like Coby would be a great way to pay tribute to my great grandfather.
Growing up with my mom, I quickly fell in love with basketball. My dad constantly talked about football, but my passion was more toward scoring a basket than getting a touchdown.
Watching the Lakers games felt like seeing magic happen at such a young age. Watching Kobe manipulate gravity into doing whatever he wanted it to do, and seeing Shaquille O’Neal almost obliterate the rim made game nights with my mom feel like an outer-world experience.
There was no way I could not grow up without a basketball in my hand. At 2 years old, I made my first basket after months of barely being able to get the ball to touch the rim of the goal.
After years of playing pickup games with my mom and friends, I decided to play in the youth basketball Upward League. Playing on a team made me realize how important it was to work as a unit, but it also made me realize I was pretty good at basketball.
I realized I was too small to play like my favorite player Shaq, but after watching how Kobe play for years, I somehow turned into his student.
From fast breaks, isolation plays, and bank shots, I played as closely as I could to my sensei. The moment I scored 25 points made me feel like Kobe must have felt when the Lakers won their year 2000 championship.
Sadly, I had personal life problems when I was 10-years-old. I lost my love for playing basketball, but I never stopped paying attention to Kobe. From his last championship to his Achilles injury and everything after, I paid attention.
When Kobe played his last game, I was prepping for my senior trip; April 13, 2016. I got to watch the first quarter with my mom before I had to leave to go to my high school that night.
While we were waiting for the bus to take off from Dothan, Alabama, to Orlando, Florida, my mom texted me, “The Lakers won, and Kobe scored 60 points.” I was in disbelief, the man who slowed down the last few years because of his injury managed to string 60 points on his final game?
I asked for confirmation from my mother, and after receiving it, I told everybody on the bus about Kobe’s last legendary game.
The bus screamed with excitement as if he won his sixth championship ring.
Seeing that many black kids excited left an impact on me. That’s what Kobe was – impactful.
He was someone who constantly talked about dedication and fought through injuries just to stay in the game. Kobe left a mark on people that covered more than just basketball.
So, I ask, how do you say goodbye to someone who never knew you existed? How do you say goodbye to someone who influenced you since before you graced soil? I don’t know.
But, with everything that Kobe was able to accomplish in just 41 short years, he deserves to get a final “Mamba Out.”
Rest in peace to the nine victims who tragically lost their lives in the helicopter accident. I hope some type of tranquility can be found for the victims’ families.