The story of how Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan became brothers

Kobe Bryant came into NBA wanting to ‘take Michael Jordan on’ but his ageing idol was happy to pass on the torch… new Netflix documentary lifts lid on how they became brothers – including never-before-seen clips of Mamba speaking a week before his death

  • Kobe Bryant was billed as Michael Jordan’s successor from a very young age
  • He grew up wanting to follow in his idol’s footsteps and even surpass him
  • Instead of seeing him as a threat, Jordan decided to take Bryant under his wing
  • The pair ended up viewing each-other as brothers prior to Bryant’s tragic death

This weekend promises to be an emotional one for fans of the Netflix documentary, ‘The Last Dance’.

The show has had NBA and general sports fans captivated with never-before-soon footage of Michael Jordan’s final season with his legendary Chicago Bulls team.

And Sunday’s fifth episode is destined to tug on the heartstrings with the focus on Jordan’s relationship with the late, great Kobe Bryant.  

Michael Jordan (L) and Kobe Bryant (R) are two of the greatest basketball players in history

Viewers will not only get a closer look at one of basketball’s most iconic friendships, they’ll also see an interview with Bryant that was conducted just one week prior to his tragic death in a helicopter crash earlier this year.

The horrific incident, which also claimed the lives of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, shocked the entire world, with millions rushing to pay tribute to a true sporting legend. 

And no tribute was more heartfelt than that of his old rival turned mentor and ‘big brother’ Jordan.

‘You know, all of us have brothers, sisters — little brothers, little sisters for whatever reason always tend to get in your stuff, your closet, your shoes, everything. It was a nuisance, if I can say that word, but that nuisance turned into love over time,’ a tearful Jordan said of the Lakers star during a memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. 

Jordan couldn’t hold back the tears as he paid tribute to Bryant following his tragic death

‘He (Bryant) wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be. As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be. When Kobe died, a piece of me died.’

These were two men who were synonymous with one-another from the moment Bryant stepped foot into the NBA at the age of 18 in 1996. 

Having idolised the Bulls star growing up, Bryant always wanted to be the next Jordan. Not only that, he planned to surpass him as the game’s greatest player.

‘When I came into the league I wanted to take him on,’ Bryant said, later on in his career. ‘All I heard was, they called him Black Panther, they called him Black Jesus and all this stuff, and I wanted to see what this was about.’ 

Bryant drew comparisons to the Chicago Bulls legend from practically his very first game. The same height and a similar build, he boasted similar athleticism and skills at the shooting guard position, which both used to win Slam Dunk Contests early in their careers. 

Bryant (R) entered the league at an early age when Jordan (L) and the Bulls were dominating

But it was his now famed ‘Mamba Mentality’ that really strengthened the comparisons.  

Bryant had Jordan’s fierce ‘whatever it takes’ competitive nature while he also shared the same belief in the importance of hard work and dedication. Neither man was afraid to run their mouth on the court, or let a team-mate know if they didn’t think they were giving it their all.

However, what was tipped to be a heated rivalry never materialised.     

Putting Jordan’s brief comeback in 2001 to one side, their careers only overlapped for two seasons. 

As Bryant and his new-look Lakers struggled to find their feet, Jordan completed an historic three-peat, the New Yorker going on to announce his retirement after a third successive championship.   

Jordan (R) decided to take Bryant (L) under his wing rather than view him as a threat

Ultimately, they never played a meaningful game together past regular-season match-ups and All-Star appearances.

But when they did cross paths, Jordan liked what he saw. 

Sunday’s episode of The Last Dance highlights this through the lens of the 1998 All-Star game, a clash presented as a battle between old and new at the time. 

With the game evenly poised at half-time, an amped-up Jordan tells his team-mates: ‘That Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one-on-one. He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it. 

‘I’m going to make this s**t happen. I’m gonna make this a one-on-one game’. 

Jordan (L) and Bryant compete for the ball during the 1998 NBA All-Star game in New York

‘He just wants to get to the offensive end and go one-on-one. I’m gonna make his a** work down here (pointing to the defensive end). He haulin’ a**.’

But what this was was really a sign that the rookie was already garnering his respect.

Ultimately both performed well in the game, Jordan proving his was still the main man as he claimed the MVP. 

‘It was fun,’ Jordan says afterwards. ‘I was trying to fend him off as much as I could. He came at me pretty early. If I see someone that’s maybe sick or whatever you’ve got to attack him. I like his attitude.’

Perhaps it was then that Jordan decided to take Bryant under his wing, rather than view him as a threat. 

Bryant (L) shares a word with Jordan during their last appearance on a court together in 2003

‘It was a rough couple of years for me, coming to the league because at the time the league was so much older. It’s not as young as it is today,’ Bryant says in the documentary, discussing his early years in the NBA. ‘And at that point, Michael provided a lot of guidance for me.

‘I had a question about shooting his turnaround shot, so I asked him about it. And he gave me a great detailed answer. But on top of that, he said, “If you ever need anything give me a call”.

‘He’s like my big brother. I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one and fans saying, “Kobe, you’d beat Michael one-on-one”.

‘I feel like, yo, what you get from me is from him. I don’t get five championships here without him, because he guided me so much and he gave me so much great advice.’   

The pair formed a close relationship over the years and came to view each-other as ‘brothers’

An ageing Jordan, with six wins in six Finals, had already cemented his legacy and  was happy to pass the torch to the man billed as his successor ahead of the new millennium.

Bryant ran with it, winning five titles of his own and joining his friend on the proverbial Mount Rushmore of basketball. 

He never quite succeeded in his mission to surpass the him, LeBron James has come closer to doing that.

But he certainly earned a level of respect from Jordan that very few others have, if any.          

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