The iconic professional NBA player Kobe Bryant passed away unexpectedly on January 26, 2020. The athlete, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, and several others, died in a helicopter crash. They were making their way to a basketball game Sunday morning when the helicopter carrying them crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
Since his death, fans across the world have offered touching tributes to Bryant and what he accomplished in the NBA. The late athlete played his entire 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he earned five NBA championships, and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008. But in his passing, it’s also forced fans to reflect on Bryant’s legacy in totality, acknowledging that just as great as an athlete, father and inspiration he was for countless Black people — especially Black men — he also admitted to committing sexual assault, the admission a part of a 2003 rape case that has resurfaced in light of his death. In Bryant’s death, it’s important to acknowledge the bad just as much as the good of the icon and how both realities can exist simultaneously, and what it teaches us about us.
As to be expected in the age of social media, Bryant has been immortalized in memes, including the most recent one of him speaking with Gianna as the two are sitting courtside at an Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets game. The meme now serves as a somber reminder of the bond the pair had and how supportive he was of seeing her become a basketball legend in her own right.
But if there’s any meme that encapsulates the universal influence of Bryant as an athlete, it’s the “Kobe!” trash can shot meme. A meme before memes were memes, Bryant’s first name became a cultural touchstone when everyone from fellow basketball ball players to students made it “synonymous with the act of throwing something, anything, in a precise fashion, a skill so regularly demonstrated by the longtime Los Angeles Laker during his illustrious NBA career,” according to the Washington Post.
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This act was primarily associated with shooting pieces of paper into a trash can, the phenomenon so popular that there have been forums dedicated to it since 2015. But the meme has been present since at least the ’90s, and gained popularity in activities outside of sports, particularly video game culture.
As the Post notes:
In gaming, the ‘Kobe!’ call is synonymous with accuracy. Calling it out meant your grenade was either well-placed for maximum damage, or to add flourish after the fact. The phrase found early prominence in the 1999 game Counter-Strike, and the early Internet was filled with video compilations of Counter-Strike players yelling ‘Kobe!’ That tradition continues today with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, still one of the most played games and one of the biggest esports scenes today.
Dave Chappelle also helped popularize the meme on his beloved Chappelle’s Show, referencing it in the “Wrap It Up” skit in 2004.
So it’s understandable that the meme resurfaced to provide some catharsis and solace to fans of the athlete across the country. On January 27, a day after his death, Los Angeles residents stood outside of the Staples Center to pay their respects to Bryant. this included setting up a trash can and passing around wadded up paper so that people could shout “Kobe” as they attempted to land their shot.
It’s an act that embodies Bryant’s impact as an athlete — the charisma, confidence, and coolness. When we said his name we were trying to channel his prowess in hopes that we would make whatever we were shooting or throwing with the same precision he had. Sometimes — most times — it didn’t end out that way, but there was a comfort in saying his name that made us believe it was possible. Even if it was something as mundane as launching a rolled-up paper into a trash can.
Below are some other notable memes that have popped up in remembrance of Bryant.
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