'The Last Dance' Gave Kobe Bryant a Tribute He Would Be Proud Of

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From Esquire

In the East’s locker room at the 1998 NBA All-Star Game, Michael Jordan is talking some friendly shit about a certain young, first-time All-Star he’ll be squaring up against.

Jordan turns to Tim Hardaway and says, “That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one-on-one.”

“Who, Kobe?” someone asks Jordan.

“Yeah,” he says. “He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it. I’m going to make this shit happen. I’m going to make this a one-on-one game.”

In the opening few minutes of Episode Five of ESPN’s The Last Dance—which follows the final season of the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls dynasty—director Jason Hehir gives a beautiful tribute to the late Kobe Bryant. (Bryant, and his daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash along with seven others in January.) The memorial is done in the most Mamba-esque way you could imagine, too—showing Kobe going all-out against MJ in an All-Star Game, as if it’s the NBA Finals.

Photo credit: VINCENT LAFORET - Getty Images

The footage is an absolute treat: MJ burning Kobe with a turnaround jumper, Bryant jamming an oop from Kevin Garnett, Bob Costas introducing the Laker as “the man many have dubbed the next Michael Jordan.” It’s obvious how much Jordan respected Bryant at the time—just listen to his benchside trash-talk, quipping, “He just wants to get to the offensive end and go one-on-one. I’m gonna make his ass work down here. He haulin’ ass.”

A minute later, Hehir turns to an interview he conducted with Bryant before his death. We knew Kobe partially modeled his game after Jordan’s—studying him growing up, adopting the same win-at-all-costs mentality—but it’s still incredible to hear him talk about his childhood idol.

“Michael provided a lot of guidance for me,” Bryant said. “Like I had a question about shooting this 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.”

While Jordan isn’t interviewed in the present day about Bryant, he gave the Lakers great a tearful, moving tribute at his memorial ceremony at the Staples Center. He called him his little brother, and said, “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died.” In The Last Dance, Bryant returns the sentiment.

“He’s like my big brother,” he said. “You know, I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one. You heard fans saying, 'Hey Kobe, you’d beat Michael one-on-one.' And I feel like, 'Yo, what you get from me, is from him.' I don’t get five championships without him, because he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice."

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