Kobe Bryant became Michael Jordan‘s spitting image in the post-Jordan era, and it’s fitting because of the big brother-little brother mentorship between MJ and the Black Mamba. But while Bryant patterned his game after Mike, he also drew inspiration from fellow Los Angeles Lakers legend Elgin Baylor.
Although sometimes overlooked in the annals of NBA history, Baylor — perhaps more than any other player — revolutionized the game with his athleticism and flair. His influence on wing players spans multiple decades, with Bryant among those to borrow from Elgin’s template.
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan shared plenty of similarities
From on-floor progression to the intangibles and ultra-competitive mindset, no player quite resembled Michael Jordan like Kobe Bryant. Nobody has captured MJ’s essence since Kobe retired in 2016, either.
Jordan entered the NBA like a whirling dervish, immediately asserting his exceptional athleticism en route to becoming one of the league’s elite scorers. Similarly, “Frobe” mainly thrived because of his supreme athletic talent early in his career.
But both men changed over time. His Airness developed one of the deadliest post-up games and fadeaway jumpers. Bryant became every bit as lethal with the fadeaway and post footwork, with a veteran MJ imparting that wisdom on a teenage Kobe in one of the NBA’s most iconic images.
The similarities extend to work ethic and will to win. Jordan and Bryant were two of the most competitive individuals ever to grace the hardwood. As a result, they’re two of the most definitive winners in NBA history.
However, Kobe absorbed information and artistry from more than just a single source. He once acknowledged dusting off the black-and-white tapes to study another Laker legend.
Bryant acknowledged he stole “so many” moves from Elgin Baylor
Who knows why it took the Lakers organization so long to give Elgin Baylor a statue.
The 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA player was one of the first true stars of the Minneapolis-LA franchise. Yet he did not receive the distinction of a statue until 2018, a year after Shaquille O’Neal had his image erected by the Lakers.
Baylor deserved all the recognition as a truly transcendent talent. One sentence from Kobe Bryant said as much.
Bryant made some remarks during Baylor’s statue unveiling outside of then-Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena) in 2018. He gave the Hall of Fame forward the ultimate praise (h/t The Athletic) as one of the most instrumental figures in changing the sport, including Bryant’s game.
“I’ve stolen so many of your moves, it’s not even funny.”–Kobe Bryant to Elgin Baylor in 2018
Baylor changed the game through the air. He had an innate feel for the basket and became one of the first to master the reverse layup. Not coincidentally, Bryant often went to reverses and spins around the hoop.
In addition to the remarks about Baylor’s style, Bryant’s words implicitly inform young fans about Baylor’s place in NBA history.
Baylor had tremendous influence on and off the court
Kobe Bryant and countless peers could thank Elgin Baylor for his off-floor contributions, in addition to his dominance on the hardwood.
Baylor became the first player to boycott an NBA game in 1959 after Black Lakers players were denied service at multiple hotels in Cincinnati. He played an instrumental role in forming a union, now known as the NBPA. The 1958-59 Rookie of the Year was every bit as prolific whenever he laced up the sneakers. Baylor ranks third all-time in scoring average (27.4) and ranks 10th in rebounding average (13.5).
Despite his unprecedented dominance as somewhat undersized “big” in that period, he had the unfortunate distinction of playing in the same era as Bill Russell and the dominant Boston Celtics, as well as Wilt Chamberlain. As a result, Baylor never won an NBA championship, though he appeared in the Finals eight times. He never attained the same level of fame as Chamberlain, either.
That said, Baylor’s influence on the sport and individuals such as Bryant is more than evident. Kobe himself gave testament to that fact.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.