Kobe is there, wearing a team uniform from Los Angeles. Kobe is there, the last one on the court practicing and taking off because the buses are waiting for him.
How appropriate. Just like old times.
There will never be another Kobe Bryant, of course. And make no mistake – Kobe Brown and Kobe Bufkin would be the first two players at the NBA Summer League to insist there will never be another Bryant. They wouldn’t pretend otherwise. But for the first time since the Hall of Famer retired in 2016, the NBA is about to have fans watching guys named Kobe again.
Brown is in the Summer League with the Los Angeles Clippers. Bufkin is starting his new year with the Atlanta Hawks. Both were named after Bryant, who is – currently – the only player named Kobe to make it to the NBA. In a few months, that looks set to change.
“It means a lot,” Brown said. “I definitely have a target on my back, I think. A lot of guys, when they hear the name Kobe, they think of Kobe Bryant. Of course, I’m not him by any means, but I try to edge that keep and play as hard as I can – just like he did.”
It is impossible to know exactly how many people are named Kobe. It is still quite unusual.
According to the Social Security Administration, there was a six-year stretch — 1998 to 2003, coinciding with Bryant’s early NBA years and first three championship seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers — when that name peaked. give to children; the largest number occurred in 2001, when applications for Social Security cards were filed for 1,552 baby boys with that name.
The name still had a small following, perhaps a few hundred children each year, until 2020, the year Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash on a foggy Sunday in Southern California. Another 1,500 boys were given that name that year, certainly many in honor of Bryant’s life and career; the most popular name that year for newborn boys, according to government data, was Liam, used about 20,000 times. (There were also variations, such as Kobee and Kobey, and a few dozen American newborn girls were also given the name in 2020.)
“It hasn’t affected me too much when I’m playing ball,” said Bufkin, who was born in 2003. “I try not to think about it as much as I’m on the court. But obviously the name comes with work ethic certain you have to try to match – and it’s hard as hell to match. If I get halfway there, I’ll be fine.”
Case in point: The Hawks had a Summer League practice this week that was scheduled to go 45 minutes, with a bit of shooting afterward. Most of the players were off the court after about an hour and 15 minutes. Almost all of them put on their shoes and were ready to get on the bus a few minutes later, but Bufkin was still on the court, working on halfcourt drives against a defender.
“Just trying to follow the blueprint,” Bufkin said.
The Lakers great is still popular 3 1/2 years after his death.
Bryant jerseys are still extremely popular among Lakers fans. Nike plans to relaunch the Kobe brand this summer, and Bryant is the cover athlete for two editions of NBA 2K24 – “NBA 2K24: Kobe Bryant Edition” and “NBA 2K24: Black Mamba Edition,” and the tie there. the 24 was one of Bryant’s two NBA jersey numbers. And another tribute of sorts is coming at the Basketball World Cup; Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards will wear No. 10 for USA Basketball this summer, the number Bryant wore when he played for the national team.
“It shows how much he inspired generations,” said Bufkin. “I was kind of part of the first generation that came behind him, and it’s crazy that our parents were happy enough to name us after him.”
Brown has never been inside Crypto.com Arena, the building the Clippers call home, as the Lakers do. The arena – then called Staples Center – is where Bryant played half of his games in his 20 seasons with the Lakers, scored his career-best 81 points against Toronto in 2006 and called home for five championship runs and 18 All-Star campaigns.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” Brown said. “I’m excited to go into the building, see him, actually play where he played all those years and did so much for the city of Los Angeles.”
Since they are both first rounders, Bufkin and Brown seem like locks to be in the NBA when the new season opens this fall. The Hawks drafted Bufkin No. 15 all the way from Michigan – and he also has a brother named as an NBA player in Isiah Thomas. Brown chose No. 30 from Missouri by the Clippers.
They are not Kobe Bryant. But they are a new way for Kobe Bryant’s legacy to live on.
“It’s an honor, just that so many people, like all of us, have been influenced by Kobe, that people are honoring their children and choosing that name,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. who was Bryant’s agent. “And we’ll probably see more and more of that, because it’s something special.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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