Michael Jordan gave Kobe Bryant the ultimate nod, saying in a video that he thinks Bryant is the only person who could've beaten him in a game of one-on-one in his prime.
"If I was in my prime, who would I want to play one-on-one?" Jordan asked in an interview with NBA 2K. "That list is very long. I'd start off with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant in his prime, LeBron [James] in his prime, D[wyane] Wade in his prime, [Car]Melo [Anthony], that's a good start. I don’t think I‘d lose, other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all of my moves.”
Bryant was the first to admit that he did, in fact, steal Jordan's moves. "Damn near 100 percent of the technique," Bryant told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report.
Bryant grew up idolizing Jordan. He imitated his speech. His mannerisms. And everything he did on the court.
Bryant went on to become a five-time NBA champion over his 20 seasons with the Lakers, one title short of Jordan. Bryant edged out Jordan on career points with 33,643, while Jordan had 32,292.
After Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people, Jordan spoke at their public memorial at Staples Center on Feb. 24 and said Bryant was a little brother to him.
But Jordan acknowledged that he used to find him a bit irritating.
"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. "At first, it was an aggravation. But then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. It's an amazing thing about passion. If you love something, if you have a strong passion for something, you would go to the extreme to try to understand or try to get it."
Bryant poured himself into becoming the best. He'd show up early to practices, working out in dark gyms before the lights came on and locking them up late at night. His work ethic is a thing of legend and lore, with many current and former NBA players having their own stories demonstrating his deep competitiveness and unparalleled drive, including Jordan.
When Jordan came to a Lakers practice 20 years ago to say hello to his former coach Phil Jackson, Jordan said Bryant immediately approached him. The first thing out of his mouth?
"Did you bring your shoes?" Bryant said, according to Jordan.
Bryant went on to become an 18-time All-Star, two-time Finals MVP and one-time regular season MVP in 2008.
Jordan said that even after Bryant retired in 2016, he still reached out to him asking for advice. When Bryant became Gianna's basketball coach, he texted Jordan to ask him what moves he was working on when he was 12 years old.
"I was trying to play baseball," Jordan said. "He sends me a text back saying 'Laughing my ass off.' And this is at 2 o'clock in the morning."
Jordan said that he deeply admired Bryant.
After all, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
"Kobe gave every last ounce of himself to whatever he was doing," Jordan said.