The image still impacts. A month from the tragic death of Kobe Bryant in a plane crash in which his daughter Gianna and seven other crew members also lost their lives, Michael Jordan showed a face rarely seen in public. A teardrop, the legend of the NBA He took the stage assembled to honor the Los Angeles Lakers star and gave a speech that went down in history.
Because beyond being heartbroken, his heartfelt words, Jordan marked that day the intimate relationship they had forged with Kobe. “More than my friend was my little brother”, Was the crude sentence of the historical number 23. And to the surprise of locals and strangers, that phrase exemplified the hard loss that Bryant’s death meant for Jordan.
This is how, more than two decades after the second retirement of Your Majesty, which marked the end of a glorious era in the NBA with the legendary Chicago Bulls, a time that coincided with the awakening of Kobe as a young figure, death closed a circle of friendship between two of the greatest competitors that sport in general had in all its history.
It all started in 97 when Bryant landed in the most famous basketball league in the world at the age of 17 and played his first All-Star Game a year later. He was the starter in that remembered 1998 edition that was played in the Madison Square Garden from New York, which in principle was to be Jordan’s last.
In the perfect setting, with all eyes on MJ, the then No. 8 Lakers was one of the game’s great attractions. But despite showing off his prowess on the ball and flying through the air to mark his athleticism, Kobe looked for more than just make his presentation to the world. That was a valuable opportunity for that young man who was taking his first steps in the competition and who had a clear goal for his future to be able to overcome his maximum idol. The one that captivated him while he watched on TV how he became the absolute owner of his sport.
On February 8, 98, the Eastern Conference team edged the Western team 135-114. Jordan played 32 minutes under Larry Bird as coach. No one was on the court any longer. Nobody scored more points than Michael. There were 23 for the number 23, which got the award of Most valuable Player of the All Star. But besides the statistical, the best were the crosses on the court that Jordan and Kobe had. The teacher vs. Your student. A back and forth with words on the parquet that were not known until the premiere of The Last Dance, the series that starred the six-time NBA champion with the historic Bulls.
In one of the chapters of the documentary that was a global success and that was released after the disappearance of Bryant, it was Kobe himself who related what was said with Jordan. “I had a question about his classic jump shot and I asked him about it. And he gave me a very detailed explanation about that. But at the same time he told me: ‘If you need something, call me’”.
That reference marked what was a fraternal union that was cemented at the end of the 90s and that was consolidated with the birth of the 21st century. So much was the dialogue that Kobe and Jordan had over the years that, before his own death and without knowing it, Bryant was the one who announced the relationship that was forged between them.
“He’s my older brother… I really hate it when there are debates about who would have won one-on-one duels… Or when a fan tells me ‘Hey Kobe, you would have beaten him in one-on-one…’ And I feel like ‘Hey, everything you got from me is for him ” ‘, was another of the statements made by the multiple NBA champion with the Lakers.
“I would not have gotten five championships without him. Because he guided me so much, he gave me so many great advice “explained the man who lost his life on January 26 when he was preparing to go to train for the women’s basketball team in which his daughter Gianna played.
Those last words from Bryant were those of a player who realized that he needed to leave behind the shadow of the number 23 to create his own legend. And so he did. How? Thanks to his own ability he managed to become the basketball player who most resembled the one he tried to imitate on a court. From his jaw syrup against opponents, to MJ-style jump shots to his side as a great finisher in late game, Kobe made his mark in the NBA. It was true to his style, similar to Jordan’s, but not the same.
As happened to Jordan himself when he could not find the course to lead Chicago to the championship, Phil Jackson was instrumental in Bryant’s mental and basketball training that made the Los Angeles franchise the winner of three consecutive titles between 2000 and 2002. So was it. was the particular encounter that Michael had, a few months after his second retirement, and the Black mamba in November 99. At the express request of the historic coach, MJ spoke with Kobe to guide him on his path to sporting success.
But, beyond the requests and the human warmth, there was only one question that ended up joining the pieces of a relationship that surpassed the competitiveness of these two great sports stars: his passion for the game. So simple and complex at the same time.
“That competitive attitude, that pain in the ass, speaks of his passion, it was a permanent challenge. Not only as an athlete, but as a father, as a husband, “Jordan confessed about Kobe in his open heart speech at the Memorial that was held in 2020 one month after his death”It helped me to be a better person. We could talk about anything related to life at 2 in the morning, “he added.
In addition to his private life, the words of Your Majesty They also flowed towards the sports side and that fraternity that they achieved over time by the simple fact of sharing the same needs to be, each one in his time, the best possible version on a basketball court.
“Kobe left everything on the court. It was like my little brother. And little brothers always want to get into your stuff; in your shoes, your closet. They want to know all the details of life. He used to call me, write me, 23.30, 0.30, 3.30 in the morning. I wanted to know about movements, this boy had passion, a passion like nobody knows. If you love something, if you have a strong passion, you can go to the extreme, to try to try. AND Kobe Bryant was an inspiration on how to want to play the game, he wanted to be the best basketball player he could be. Well I wanted to be the best big brother I could be, ”Jordan said.
Bryant’s early death left a huge empty space for all sports fans. Almost like an imaginary altar, Jordan used his sayings to illuminate a story few knew. Just them and their families. The story of two competitors who were born with similar DNA and who, thanks to their love for the game, met in life.
Kobe died. And for Jordan, a part of him also died with the disappearance of his favorite impersonator.. The one he gave advice to. The one with which he competed for the most precious good that both had in his sports career: victory. The one that led them to become brothers.
Kobe Bryant’s decision about the flight the night before his tragic death
The moving letter from Kobe Bryant’s wife on their daughter Natalia’s 18th birthday: “You have shown strength in the most difficult year of our lives”