When a labor dispute delayed the start of the 1998-99 NBA season, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant reached out to Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan, who retired following his sixth championship in 1998. The two shooting guards talked about defense since Bryant was eager to become an elite defender like Jordan.
Jordan was not only flattered that Bryant had the same drive to be great as him, but he also taught the youngster some handy tricks on how to contain bigger players in the post on defense.
Michael Jordan helped Kobe Bryant become a better defender
According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Jordan helped Bryant become a superior defender. The Lakers guard was skinny when he first entered the league, so he needed some pointers from His Airness on how to stop bigger guards than him.
“When the start of the 1998-99 season is delayed by a labor dispute, it allows time for Kobe to reach out to Jordan again, this time through a series of pointed questions on containing bigger players in the post — the likes of Latrell Sprewell, Mitch Richmond, Jimmy Jackson, and Bryon Russell, all stronger and more physical than Kobe is,” MacMullan wrote in 2020. “Jordan tutors Kobe: how to hold players off, how to push them to their weak side, how to fool them into thinking they have a clear lane, how to back off so the bigger player can’t feel where the defense is.”
The tricks Jordan taught Bryant worked, as the Black Mamba made 12 All-Defensive teams during his Hall of Fame career. Since he went to the NBA straight out of high school, Bryant viewed the lessons he learned from Jordan as his own college education.
Michael Jordan was Kobe Bryant’s mentor
There’s a reason Bryant’s game resembled Jordan’s so much. The 18-time All-Star sought MJ’s guidance for the better part of two decades and wanted his fundamentals to be perfect.
“They were fundamental things. Obviously, things he had learned at Carolina under the great tutelage of Dean Smith,” Bryant told MacMullan. “I never had that. Speaking to MJ was like getting my own college education at the highest level.”
Jordan and Bryant faced each other eight times, with the latter winning five of the matchups. Black Jesus averaged 24.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, while Kobe put up 22.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Both players were not only fierce competitors, but they were also demanding teammates.
MJ told Bean sometimes you have to be an a**hole
When Bryant elbowed Sasha Vujacic in the face during a 2004-05 practice, he called Jordan to ask the five-time MVP if he was too hard on his teammates. Jordan, who punched Steve Kerr and Will Perdue during his Bulls career, explained to Bryant that he had to be an a**hole sometimes.
“Sometimes you have to be an a**hole,” Jordan said. “Sometimes your teammates are going to hate you, but all the guys I went after — Luc Longley, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler — they won multiple championships, so I’m pretty sure they understand.”
Bryant came one championship short of tying Jordan, who won six and went undefeated in the Finals. At Kobe’s public memorial in 2020, Jordan gave a powerful speech where he cried about losing his younger brother. It was an emotional moment for the basketball world to lose Bryant, who is widely viewed as the second greatest shooting guard of all-time behind Superman.
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