(CBSLA) — Kobe Bryant was sometimes referred to as the next Michael Jordan. The comparison isn’t really fair. Kobe wasn’t the next anyone. He was Kobe Bryant. And no player today will be the next Kobe Bryant. They are who they are.
All that said, Kobe and Jordan had a lot of similarities in their games that invited comparison, as highlighted in episode five of the ongoing Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance. The two players, each 6’6″, were big guards for their eras who excelled from mid-range, particularly late in their careers. Both sharpened their games under Phil Jackson in the triangle offense. Both possessed a drive and work ethic not often seen, even among pros.
What’s become more apparent over the years is just how much of Kobe’s game evolved from Jordan’s and how much Jordan helped him grow.
Jordan and Kobe only crossed over in the NBA for four seasons, 1996-1998 and 2001-2003. In those first two seasons, Jordan’s last two with the Chicago Bulls, Kobe wasn’t even a starter. He was, however, a promising up-and-comer who had caught the eye of the league’s veterans.
“That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one on one,” Jordan said in the locker room at one point. “He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it. I’m going to make this… happen. I’m going to make this a one-on-one game.”
Kobe has freely admitted that Jordan contributed to his success. “What you get from me is from him,” Bryant said. “I don’t get five championships here without him, because he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.”
“It was a rough couple of years for me coming into the league,” as Kobe recounted in the documentary. “Cause 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. I was the kid that shot a bunch of airballs, you know what I mean? And at that point, Michael provided a lot of guidance for me. Like, I had a question about 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, ‘If you never need anything, give me a call.'”
And that’s what Kobe did.
“[Kobe] 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,” Jordan said at Kobe’s memorial service earlier this year.
What’s amazing isn’t that Kobe modeled so much of his game on Jordan’s. A lot of players have tried to imitate Jordan — quite likely the NBA’s best player ever — over the years. What’s amazing is how well Kobe was able to do it. He was, after all, an NBA All-Star 18 times over.