Kobe Bryant was coined the next Michael Jordan from practically the moment he entered the NBA. Whether it was a moniker he ultimately lived up to is a matter of debate, but at the very least, it is one Bryant tried to live by.
Episode 5 of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s documentary on Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, aired on Sunday and was dedicated to the late Bryant, who died in a helicopter accident in January. In it, Bryant spoke candidly about his relationship with Jordan, and explained that he didn’t believe his career would have amounted to nearly as much without Jordan’s help. Jordan was the archetype around which he tried to build his game.
“It was a rough couple of years for me coming into the league because at the time, the league was so much older, it’s not as young as it is today, so nobody was really thinking much of me,” Bryant said. “I was the kid who shot a bunch of airballs. And at that point Michael provided a lot of guidance for me. Like I had a question shooting his turnaround shot, so I asked him about it, and he gave me a great detailed answer. But on top of that, he said that if you ever need anything, give me a call. He’s like my big brother.
“I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one, hearing fans say ‘Kobe, you would beat Michael one-on-one.’ I feel like, yo, what you get from me is from him. I wouldn’t get five championships here without him, because he guided me so much and gave me such great advice.”
Bryant emulated Jordan in practically every way during his 20-year NBA career. His offensive game, built around an exceptional turnaround jumper and a rare set of low-post moves for a guard, was practically ripped directly off of Jordan’s highlight reel. His competitive nature was similarly copied off of Jordan, and his relentless work ethic allowed him to spend the better part of two decades at or near the top of the NBA.
Bryant might not have reached the heights that Jordan did, but asking anyone to live up to that standard is unreasonable. Bryant was, in truth, the closest thing the NBA got to another Jordan, and based on the way the game is trending, he might wind up being the closest we ever get.