Over the years, there hasn’t been much doubt that Michael Jordan was the most significant influence on helping shape Kobe Bryant‘s illustrious career. The former Los Angeles Lakers star guard looked up to Jordan over the years that made the opportunity for him to face his idol in the NBA that much more special. Bryant entered the league, a promising player out of high school with a boatload of confidence in his ability on the court. However, Jordan quickly put him in his place in their first-ever NBA matchup.
Kobe Bryant’s hype entering NBA
Before the 1996 NBA draft, Bryant had garnered plenty of attention after his impressive high school career. He had developed into one of the nation’s best talents that could have had his pick of the litter for colleges he could have attended.
Bryant was the driving force for Lower Merion High School, leading them to their first state championship in 53 years. That saw him head the charge averaging 30.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.0 steals, and 3.8 blocks per contest. He had also surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as the all-time leading scorer in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
He continued to garner much attention in the workouts before the draft, which drew the attention of the Lakers to make a strong play for him. In his rookie campaign under Del Harris, Bryant didn’t play much in a limited role off the bench.
However, Bryant got his chance to play his idol in his first campaign in the 1996-97 season that he believed he was more than prepared.
Michael Jordan handles Kobe Bryant in first matchup
A couple of months into his first NBA season, Bryant got the matchup he had long been waiting to for as he took on Jordan in mid-December that season.
Even in his rookie campaign, the Lakers guard had tremendous confidence in his ability going up against Jordan as he believed he would “destroy” the Hall of Famer. However, things quickly headed south as the Bulls star dunked on him early in the game as he recalled on the Holding Court with Geno Auriemma podcast back in December 2017. (H/T Bleacher Report)
“And the first thing he did, they ran a fifth-down sequence in the triangle. He caught the ball in the corner and he made his little pirouette spin that he does and sneaks baseline. I fell for it, and he went by me and dunked it.
“I remember just laughing to myself all the way up the court. I’ve seen that move thousands of times and I can’t believe I just fell for it. And then after that, it was like, ‘OK, let’s get to work.’ Every time I faced him I wanted to see how he was going to respond to his same moves.”
Bryant’s youth and inexperience certainly worked against him facing Jordan, who had four NBA titles to his name at that point. His production from that loss to the Bulls wasn’t anything significant as he finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting in 10 minutes played.
Meanwhile, Jordan had his usually strong production with 30 points alongside Scottie Pippen dropping 35 points in the comfortable win on their home floor. It was an early learning lesson that Bryant took to heart.
Michael Jordan’s impact on Kobe Bryant
Over the years, Bryant voiced that he had drawn a great deal of inspiration and guidance from many of the game’s greatest players.
However, it was quite evident that nobody made a more significant impact on him than Jordan. That was the one player he aimed to better than when he entered the league as he’s been the gold standard for any player after him to aspire to be.
Bryant had the privilege of developing a strong relationship with Jordan over the years that saw him become more than just a mentor but a big brother figure in his life. That alone cemented the everlasting impact that Jordan had on his career that helped propel him into a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players in NBA history.