Michael Jordan might be a living NBA legend, but he wasn’t always the easiest guy to get work with. His Airness loved to win above all else; that reality meant anyone, from teammates to former presidents, could feel his competitive wrath. Kobe Bryant, however, was able to get past that facade and build a relationship with the Chicago Bulls star.
While it might seem easy to flatter Jordan and appeal to his ego, that’s not what Kobe Bryant did. In fact, the Lakers guard won His Airness over by doing the exact opposite.
Michael Jordan’s competitive drive helped make him great
It goes without saying that Michael Jordan had an incredible amount of basketball talent. A major part of His Airness’ greatness, however, was also his sheer will to win.
As a boy, Jordan honed that competitive edge battling against his older brother, Larry. His resolve was tested in high school—Michael famously failed to make the varsity basketball team—but couldn’t be broken. He would go on to become a McDonald’s All-American before heading to the University of North Carolina; there, he hit the game-winning shot in the National Championship game as a freshman.
While it took some time to win titles in the NBA, Jordan continued to dominate in the pros. Once the Chicago Bulls broke overcame the Detroit Pistons and their ‘Jordan Rules,’ there was no turning back. His Airness would go on to score over 30,000 points, won six championships, and six MVP awards, talking trash all the way to the top.
Jordan’s will to win hasn’t dissipated in retirement, though. Whether he’s on the golf course or playing Bejeweled, MJ wants to be the best at anything and everything.
Kobe Bryant used a specific approach to break through MJ’s facade
Due to his competitive intensity and status as a living legend, Michael Jordan wasn’t the easiest person to approach, let alone build a relationship with. Kobe Bryant, however, was able to break through the facade.
MJ obviously was aware of Bryant’s talent, but that alone wasn’t enough to earn his trust. Kobe had to prove he was a student of the game rather than someone looking to suck up to a star.
“The reason Kobe was different in MJ’s eyes is because Kobe looked at Michael as a reference book, encyclopedia, whatever you want to call it. He didn’t look at him as a fan,” Tim Grover, a trainer who worked with both Jordan and Bryant, recently explained on The Jim Rome Show. “He wasn’t interested in, ‘Mike, can I have your shoes after the game? Can I get the signed jersey? Can you do this?’ He wanted to absorb the knowledge that MJ had, and MJ would test individuals. He would give them a little, and then he would see if they actually applied it, and if they actually learned it, and if they actually learned to use it.”
While that might sound simple enough—who wouldn’t want tips from the greatest player of all-time—most couldn’t see Jordan as anything more than an idol. Kobe Bryant’s attitude, however, made all the difference.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant formed an incredible bond
On the surface, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were both fierce competitions. While that reality could have turned into a bitter rivalry, the two stars built a relationship based on mutual respect.
As The Last Dance showed, their bond evolved over the years. Bryant grew up idolizing Jordan and wanting to be like him; Jordan, at least at first, had no problem talking trash about “that little Laker boy.” Over time, however, things changed; they eventually came to consider themselves brothers, pushing each other toward greatness.
“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died. As I look into 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 learn from,” Jordan explained at the Lakers legend’s funeral earlier this year. “I promise you from this day forward that I will live with the memories that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way that I could. Please rest in peace, little brother.”