Kobe's enduring legacy: How his greatness spawned a generation of Kobes

Kobe Bryant names

Kobe Bryant names mod art

Kobe Bryant names

On the day her youngest son was born, Rochette Wilson awoke to a big surprise.

Her husband had named their newborn baby after his favorite NBA player while she was heavily sedated because of complications during labor.

"When my wife was coherent enough to know what was going on, they bring our son in from the nursery and they're like, "Here's Kobe!" Carlos Wilson recalled with a chuckle. "She's like, 'Who?' They say, 'Kobe.' She's like, 'Who named him Kobe?' The other people in the room point at me, and she gives me this 'go-to-hell' look like I'd never seen before and I've never seen afterward. But by that point I had filled out all the paperwork, so his name was locked in."

An aspiring basketball coach who had just founded an AAU team in Texas at the time of his son's birth, Carlos had a deep appreciation for Kobe Bryant even as the 20-year-old Los Angeles Lakers phenom was just launching his NBA career. When doctors asked Carlos the name of his newborn son, he made an impulse decision to pick "Kobe" instead of one of the biblical names he and his wife had previously discussed.

Seventeen-year-old Kobe Wilson is one of more than 14,000 boys named after Bryant during his 20 years in the NBA. Those namesakes are as much a part of Bryant's legacy as his five championship rings, two Olympic gold medals and 18 All-Star appearances.

Some of the oldest of that legion of Kobes are just beginning to gain attention for basketball at the same time as Bryant is months away from retiring.

There's UCLA-bound Kobe Paras, a teenage heartthrob in his native Philippines who hopes to be the next guard named Kobe to star in Los Angeles. There's Wisconsin-bound Kobe King, a promising shooting guard whose cousin is former Fab Five member Jimmy King. And there's Arizona-bound Kobi Jordan Simmons, a McDonald's All-American named after two of the greatest players in NBA history.

The name "Kobe" never cracked the Social Security Administration's list of the nation's 1,000 most popular boy's names until Bryant's rookie season, but its stature has mirrored the ebb and flow of his career ever since. It rocketed into the low 200s by the time Bryant captured his first championship in 2000, dipped noticeably after he was accused of rape three years later and then climbed again afterward as he gradually repaired his image.

At a time when Americans take cues from Hollywood on everything from clothes, to cars, to charitable causes, it's no surprise that baby names have also become increasingly celebrity¬driven. You're more likely to meet a newborn "Mila," "Reese" or "Arya" today than you are a "Lindsay," "Patricia" or "Karen."

[More on Kobe Bryant's legacy: Five prep prospects named after the Lakers star]

"There's a real arms race among parents to be new and different, and that's different from past generations," said Laura Wattenberg, author of the book "The Baby Name Wizard." "The name Kobe struck a chord with people because of his image as a player and the very contemporary sound of the name. In a lot of ways, it was the perfect combination."

When Bryant's own parents named him after the pricey, well-marbled steak they saw on a restaurant menu, the name was so distinctive that he has insisted he never encountered another Kobe throughout his entire childhood. Now there are boys named after Bryant in every corner of the country, from his native Philadelphia, to his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, to places like Salt Lake City or Sacramento, where he has received only boos and catcalls his entire career.

When McCaskey High School point guard Kobe Gantz was in grade school, his father had this poster of him and Kobe Bryant made (via Collins Gantz)
When McCaskey High School point guard Kobe Gantz was in grade school, his father had this poster of him and Kobe Bryant made (via Collins Gantz)

If his family hadn't already owned a Rottweiler named Jordan, Georgia native Kobi Jordan Simmons probably would have been called that, too, in honor of the Chicago Bulls star. The Arizona-bound point guard instead became Kobi when his 4-year-old older brother suggested combining the names of the greatest shooting guard in NBA history and his heir apparent.

"My wife liked that idea so much she was done after that," Demond Stephens said. "It was much better than having your son have the same name as your dog. You don't want to be like, 'Jordan!' and here comes your Rottweiler."

Kobe Smith, a standout wide receiver and shooting guard from Gardena, Calif., would have been named after Earvin "Magic" Johnson if his father Anthony initially had his way. Only after Smith's mother recoiled at the idea of naming her son "Earvin" did the couple consider another Lakers luminary.

"He was like, 'How about Earvin?' I was like, 'How about not,'" Smith's mother Julia Boyer recalled. "If we were going to name him after a Lakers player, it was going to be Kobe."

Parents who name a son after Bryant often go to great lengths to make sure he loves the Lakers star as much as they do. They hang framed posters or jerseys in their son's bedroom, shell out $100 for baby shoes modeled after Bryant's latest basketball sneakers and place child-sized hoops around the house so little Kobe can master a jump shot as soon as he learns to walk.

When Kobe Gantz was still in grade school in Lancaster, Pa., his father had a poster made featuring his son clutching a basketball on one side and an image of Bryant dunking on the other. The poster hung in Gantz's room until he was about 12, but by then the promising McCaskey High School point guard already had eyes for other basketball players.

Park Tudor High School point guard Kobe Webster (via Isaac Webster)
Park Tudor High School point guard Kobe Webster (via Isaac Webster)

"He still respects Kobe Bryant, but he's not his favorite player," dad Collins Gantz said. "Now he's a big Kevin Durant fan."

Kobe Webster, a two-time state champion point guard at Indiana's Park Tudor High School, is such an ardent fan of Bryant that he'll watch replays of Lakers games from the Kobe-Shaq era and emulate his namesake's moves at the gym. When a stranger at the barber shop insisted earlier this month that Bryant was no longer worthy of a spot in the Lakers' starting lineup, Webster staunchly defended his favorite player.

"My son told the guy, 'He's Kobe Bryant. He should start until the day he retires,' " dad Isaac Webster said with a chuckle. "That's definitely a guy you can't talk badly about around my son."

No matter how enthusiastic their parents are about basketball or Bryant, not every young Kobe inherits the same passion.

In Indiana, there's a Kobe who's headed to Purdue on a wrestling scholarship after winning a state championship at 220 pounds last year. In Florida, there's a Kobe who's one of the state's best defensive shortstops and will play at Alabama State next year. Elsewhere, there are numerous Kobes with no interest in sports whatsoever.

Thankfully for Carlos Wilson, his son shares his love of basketball.

Kobe Wilson has blossomed into one of the better point guard prospects in the state of Arkansas and has already begun to receive looks from Division I programs. Perhaps someday he'll even play for Arkansas State, where his dad is now in his second season as an assistant coach.

Carlos knows he took a risk naming his son after Bryant without consulting his wife, but Rochette Wilson apparently has forgiven her husband.

"She's a trooper," Carlos said. "The initial shock lasted a couple days, but about a week into it she was good with it. The name has been a perfect fit. I couldn't have named him anything better."

What to Read Next