Episode 5 of “The Last Dance” struck hard at the emotions of basketball fans right in the very first frame. “In loving memory of Kobe Bryant,” read the episode’s opening.
But the pivot to the Eastern Conference All-Stars locker room for the 1998 midseason classic created a few awkward feelings as veteran stars began calling out the then Lakers youngster’s game—including Jordan, who was very vocal in his criticism of Bryant’s game.
“That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one on one,” Jordan told his East teammates. “He don’t let the game come to him.”
Someone mentioned something about Kobe missing four straight shots and Jordan chimed in: “If I was his teammate, I wouldn’t pass him the (expletive) ball. You want this ball again brother, you better rebound.”
But then came the Bryant interview. And every trace of awkwardness evaporated.
Suddenly, Jordan’s tear-filled tribute to Bryant during the latter’s memorial made sense.
Jordan jokingly called a young Bryant a “nuisance” for constantly badgering him with basketball questions. In the end, Bryant’s persistent questions endeared him to Jordan.
“As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be,” Jordan said.
Those words would develop a whole new meaning after Episode 5 of “The Last Dance,” with Bryant referring to Jordan as a big brother who helped shape the player he would become.
“I was a kid that shot a bunch of air balls, you know?” Bryant said. “And at that point, Michael provided a lot of guidance for me.”
“[O]n top of that, he said ‘if you ever need anything, give me a call,’” added the late Lakers star. “He’s like my big brother.”
Bryant’s comments, juxtaposed with Jordan’s memorial speech, revealed a special bond between two players who are often mentioned in GOAT debates. And while being pitted against one’s idol for basketball’s “greatest ever” label might be flattering, Bryant viewed the debate with a pinch of annoyance—especially when the argument devolved into a hypothetical matchup.
“I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one and them saying ‘Kobe, you’d beat Michael one-on-one,’” Bryant said. “And I feel like, ‘yo, what you get from me is from him.’”
“I don’t get five championships here without him,” added Bryant. “’Cause he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.”
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