The love for Kobe Bryant is strong across the world. Bryant’s career, family, and personality was admired by fans. Fans grew to love Kobe when he became an NBA draft pick in 1996. However for young teen Aj Moye it all started just a year prior in ‘95. Moye, now the one-time Master Trainer Basketball at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, reflects on how his love and admiration for Bryant began.
“I saw Kobe play in the ‘95 AAU tournament, I was 13 and he was 17”, Moye recalls.
The summer following, just two months prior to Bryant’s 18th birthday, he was drafted and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Moye spent summers with his father in Los Angeles. The Summer League was held at Long Beach State during that time, it was only natural for Moye to want to go watch Bryant play.
“I remember going to watch Kobe… I remember the Clippers had Keith Closs with that big afro.” Moye said laughing. “Kobe had 31 or 36 points. Something Crazy.”
Once the game concluded Kobe had been asked to give an interview on his work ethic and how he spent so much time in the gym night and day, Moye recalled . Bryant’s response was
“It’s true, but I believe in myself. The most important thing to do is to believe in yourself or nobody else will.”
Moye says that it impacted him immediately even though he was only a young teen at the time “It sparked something in me.”
Moye’s true rise for basketball had just started, not even knowing that this would become the stepping stone where the connection between him and Bryant would begin. Since then Moye became a national recruited player from Westlake High in Atlanta, this rewarded him with an invite to an All- American basketball camp, that year Bryant a former invitee of the camp would be the guest.
“I got to meet Kobe that day. I told him my story about watching him at Long Beach,” said Moye.
Moye had become a part of Bobby Knights final recruiting class in Indiana which then led him to becoming a major part of the program’s team that won the Big Ten championship in 2002, they also made the NCAA national title appearance. Once Moye finished college he would go on to play seven seasons of professional basketball in and out of the U.S.
Throughout the year Moye and Bryant had several encounters with one another. It once became full circle when Moye was hired at the Sports Academy, and now holds the position as the ‘Basketball Master Trainer.’ The 100,000 square foot facility was the sports mecca of all sorts in 2015 founder Chad Faulkner would relaunch it as The Mamba Sports Academy in 2018. After Bryant’s death just one year ago the facility removed the word “Mamba” from its title per request by Bryant’s estate.
It has been almost three years since Moye was named Master Trainer for Mamba Sports where he would shoot hoops with the NBA legend, he still holds his title, but there is no more “Mamba.”
Moyer says, “For me, losing Kobe was losing someone I looked up to my whole life. I can’t even begin to equate, specify or even speak about the loss suffered by Vanessa, Natalia, Capri and Koko.”
The sports academy has decided not to do anything publicly “really out of respect for the family, There’s a lot of pain for Vanessa (Bryant’s wife) and the daughters… For us to do anything big and bright doesn’t seem appropriate.” says Faulkner.
One thing that Faulkner says was a “beautiful experience” was seeing how the memorial grew within a month directly in front of the building. “I think that’s the most important part of the grieving process, says Faulkner.
As for Moye, his healing process is something he is still grasping with.
“Kobe is still so present, so felt you know?, It will never really feel like he is gone,” says Moye.
Bryant was so impactful that even after his passing his legacy continues to inspire.