The two all-time greats met at polar opposite points in their careers. Jordan, approaching age 35 and in the midst of a run for his sixth ring, was playing in his 12th All-Star Game. Bryant, 19, was making history as the youngest player to become an NBA All-Star.
Jordan has grown to acknowledge the game as a passing of the torch between the two timeless stars.
In NBC Sports’ “Sports Uncovered” podcast series, titled “My Favorite Kobe Story,” former Chicago Sun-Times and Los Angeles Times reporter J.A. Adande recalled a piece of advice Jordan offered his protégé, Rob Schaeffer wrote.
“One thing that sticks with me is he (Kobe) talked about how Michael told him at that ‘98 All-Star Game, he said ‘don’t forget to stay aggressive.’” Adande said on the podcast. “And Kobe said, initially he was like, ‘What do you mean stay aggressive? Of course I’m gonna stay aggressive.’ Kobe was almost insulted that Michael felt the need to tell him that.”
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Kobe Learns What Jordan Meant
While Bryant was irked by Jordan’s comment initially — and rightfully so given Jordan’s reputation as a trash-talker — it later rang true to the unsuspecting rising star.
“And then as the second half of the season went on, and you know, it’s your third game in five days in three cities and all of that stuff that comes with the NBA and you’re just dragging yourself to the arena. And Kobe realized this is what he’s talking about,” Adande said. “That you have to find a way even in these situations to stay aggressive. He was like ‘now I get it.’ ”
Bryant took the message to heart as one of the most tenacious players to play the game. He claimed five NBA titles over 20 seasons, nearly matching Jordan’s legacy.
Jordan-Bryant Rivalry Nurtured Jordan’s Fondness for Bryant
Jordan delivered an emotional eulogy at Bryant’s memorial at the Staples Center last February that caught Adande off guard.
Adande, who likely had more conversations and familiarity with both stars than any other member of the media in his time working in both Chicago and Los Angeles, was awestruck by Jordan’s emotional vulnerability.
“I’ve never heard Michael speak to his emotions like he did. It was just stunning… how he talked about how it was going to change him and how he was going to try to be a better person. You never heard Michael say this philosophical stuff.”
Jordan touched on several memories Bryant and him shared over the years, adding that the short-lived rivalry they shared on the floor fueled his fondness for Bryant.
“Maybe it surprised people that Kobe and I were very close friends. But we were very close friends. Kobe was my dear friend. He was like a little brother,” Jordan said. “Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”
Here’s a summary of the rest of Jordan’s eulogy to Bryant:
You know all of us have brothers and sisters, little brothers, little sisters, who for whatever reason always tend to get in your stuff, your closet, your shoes, everything. It was a nuisance – if I can say that word – but that nuisance turned into love over a period of time. Just because the admiration that they have for you as big brothers or big sisters, the questions in wanting to know every little detail about life that they were about to embark on.
He used to call me, text me, 11:30, 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning, talking about post-up moves, footwork, and sometimes, the triangle. At first, it was an aggravation. But then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. It’s an amazing thing about passion. If you love something, if you have a strong passion for something, you would go to the extreme to try to understand or try to get it.
What Kobe Bryant was to me was the inspiration that someone truly cared about the way either I played the game or the way that he wanted to play the game. He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be. And as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.
To do that, you have to put up with the aggravation, the late-night calls, or the dumb questions. I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant that he was just trying to be a better person – a better basketball player. We talked about business, we talked about family, we talked about everything. And he was just trying to be a better person.
Now, he’s got me and I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next…
(Lengthy laughter and applause.)
No one knows how much time we have. That’s why we must live in the moment, we must enjoy the moment, we must reach and see and spend as much time as we can with our families and friends and the people that we absolutely love. To live in the moment means to enjoy each and every one that we come in contact with.
When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died. And as I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died, or else you wouldn’t be here. Those are the memories that we have to live with and we learn from.
I promise you from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother and I tried to help in every way I could.
Please, rest in peace little brother.
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