In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death, there’s no shortage of shock, misery and confusion about how to remember the complicated life the NBA superstar led. But there’s one group of mourners who already know how they’ll carry on Bryant’s legacy: by continuing to shout “Kobe!” every time they throw things into other things.
That community, it turns out, spans generations and fandoms well beyond (and within) the NBA. On Reddit alone, everyone from postal workers to disc golfers to Jimmy John’s employees have been known to regularly utter his first name as they shoot their shot, whatever that shot might be and into whatever receptacle it might land.
Meanwhile, on TikTok, a growing number of teens are arguing that the phrase should be changed to “For Kobe!,” or play out future conversations with their kids about who Kobe was, and why they say his name as they launch inanimate objects.
Ed, a diehard Boston Celtics fan in Virginia, tells me he’s been saying “Kobe!” since he was 6 years old. “I first began saying Kobe because my cousins said it, and I thought it was so cool,” he says.
Before learning of Kobe’s death, Ed says, his motivation for continuing to say “Kobe!” was mostly out of respect. “Even as a Celtics fan, there wasn’t any other name that can replace Kobe when shooting a bucket,” he says. “He worked his ass off to become a legend, and it shows with his accolades and intimidation on court.”
Now, though, it’s about more than respect for Bryant’s game: Ed feels a personal obligation to keep Kobe’s memory alive. “I have even more reason to continue yelling ‘Kobe!’ with every paper-ball shot to the trash can,” he tells me. “I can’t let his legacy die, and I feel yelling ‘Kobe!’ exemplifies his impact for hundreds of millions of people, basketball fans or not.”
Travis, a 31-year-old in San Francisco, grew up watching Kobe dismantle his Golden State Warriors throughout the early 2000s. “You knew just watching him that he was an all-time great,” Travis explains. Still, until this weekend, shouting “Kobe!” had become more reflex than homage. “Just a couple of days ago, I was shooting around and saying ‘Kobe!’ to myself and didn’t even think about him,” he tells me. “It feels like I took him for granted. So for me, it’s too soon to speak his name in a joyful way. Maybe it won’t ever be the same, because now I’ll always remember the tragic way he and his daughter passed.”
One unexpected subset of “Kobe!” bros still celebrating Bryant’s life via yelling his name are guys who play Call of Duty, Counter-Strike and other multiplayer first-person shooters online. Because within the gaming world, saying “Kobe!” before throwing a grenade at the enemy has become a global ritual. When these Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teammates heard of Bryant’s death, they paid their respects the only way they knew how: by shouting “Kobe!” and throwing grenades.
“It wasn’t long after both teams heard the news of Kobe’s passing that one person had written ‘RIP Kobe’ in the chat, and soon after, we all typed it too just to show mutual respect for the man,” says longtime Bryant fan and redditor HotShotJimbo, who posted the video above. “Then we thought of throwing the ’nades as a little way to pay tribute to him.”
“I was in a match with a couple of friends when the news dropped,” Viccerz21 adds. “One of our teammates was just like, ‘HOLY SHIT KOBE BRYANT DIED!’ After we confirmed it was true, we took a timeout and asked the other team to do a small tribute where we all lined up and threw grenades at each other and knife-battled for the round. It was a beautiful show of solidarity.”
Nick, 33, says he and his friends have been saying “Kobe!” in Counter-Strike since 1999, “when it was a Half-Life mod in beta 6.6 before it got big.” Going forward, though, he won’t express it nearly as glibly. “Getting a grenade kill will never be the same,” he tells me. “But I’m making a [customized quick-chat] that says ‘R.I.P. Kobe’ that I’ll drop when I get a ’nade kill. Legends don’t die. R.I.P. Mamba.”
If shouting “Kobe!” was just a funny meme before Sunday, HotShotJimbo says, the tradition has certainly taken on new meaning. Like the TikTok teens and their imaginary future children, he now sees it as a way to introduce new people to Kobe Bryant, the basketball player. “I’m happy it’s become a thing, because people who don’t know his name will ask what it means, and others will tell them,” he says, echoing Ed’s sentiments. “So it’s another way to keep his name going.”