Michael Jordan And Kobe Bryant Once Played A Mental Game Of One-On-One Over Dinner

Jill Painter Lopez

Former Chicago Bulls point guard B.J. Armstrong went out to dinner with Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in 2014 and was fascinated by their conversation. 

The two superstars played a mental game of one-on-one at the table.

Armstrong, who won three NBA championships with the Bulls alongside Jordan from 1991-93, discussed what he witnessed that evening with Hall of Fame photographer Andrew Bernstein on his podcast for the Los Angeles Times, Legends of Sport.

"It was great because you saw the respect that they both had for one another, but they couldn’t help but turn on the competitive spirit," Armstrong said. "I didn’t say a word. I just sat there and watched, where they were just saying how the game would be played if they caught the ball [in a certain spot]. 'Well if I catch the ball in the left wing with the live dribble, how would you defend me?'

"And the detail that they were going over with these abstract ideas, that’s what really caught my attention. 'Okay, well how you going to catch the ball?' Like, who asks those questions? 'What’s your pivot foot? What’s the score of the game? How would you defend me if I had it here?'"

After much debate, Jordan, who won six NBA championships with the Bulls, and Bryant, who won five titles with the Lakers, eventually agreed on one thing. 

"Michael Jordan had bigger hands than Kobe and that was the deciding factor," Armstrong said. 

When asked if that admission killed Bryant, Armstrong clarified things a bit. 

"The one thing about both of them, they never acknowledged a loss," Armstrong said. "He just admitted that Michael Jordan had bigger hands."

Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people on January 26. 

After his death, Jordan revealed how close he was with Bryant. He spoke at his public memorial at Staples Center on Feb. 24, choking back tears as he called him his brother. He said that Bryant used to call him at all hours of the night asking for advice. 

"He used to call me, text me, 11:30, 2:30, 3 o'clock in the morning, talking about post-up moves, footwork, and sometimes, the triangle," Jordan said Feb. 24. "At first, it was an aggravation. But then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know."

Months before Bryant died, he was interviewed for the documentary "The Last Dance," which chronicled Jordan and the Bulls. 

"What you get from me is from him," Bryant said in the fifth episode of the docuseries. "I don't get five championships here without him because he guided me so much. He gave me so much great advice."

Years before the world learned about their relationship, Armstrong had a front seat view of their dynamic. 

It's something he'll never forget. 

“They’re geniuses,” Armstrong said. “The fact they didn’t have to actually play a game, that they could actually just play it in their mind, to me was way more impressive than actually watching them play. They were able to mentally play this game and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen."