The comparisons between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan began the moment Bryant entered the NBA out of high school as an 18-year-old rookie in 1996.
Their similarities have largely been contained to the basketball court, but it has been hard not to think about Bryant every Sunday while watching “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
In the documentary, when Jordan’s teammate Randy Brown asks him for a ticket to a game and says the seats “could be in the locker room next to God,” and Jordan hands him a ticket and says, “You just got one from him,” it was reminiscent of a classic Bryant story. During the 2014-15 season, Bryant was riding Jeremy Lin hard in practice and Lin said, “Kobe, you know I’m not scared of you, man. The only person I’m scared of is God.” Kobe responded, “Yeah, me, God, yeah.”
Sunday’s episodes highlighted Jordan’s treatment of his teammates and how hard he was on them. “Let’s not get it wrong, he was an a--hole, he was a jerk,” former Bulls center Will Perdue said. “He crossed the line numerous times, but as time goes on and you think back to what he was trying to accomplish, he was a hell of a teammate.”
The film focused on Jordan’s relationship with Scott Burrell, an affable fifth-year forward on the Bulls during the 1997-98 season. Jordan wanted to push him to be better. It was impossible not to watch the footage of Jordan going after Burrell, Jud Buechler and other teammates and not think about Bryant, who infamously did the same thing to his teammates.
One of the rare moments the media saw a glimpse of that side of Bryant firsthand was in 2014 when Bryant was loudly cursing and telling the team they were “soft as Charmin.”
During that practice Nick Young told Bryant, “Nobody in the world can guard me one-on-one.”
Bryant laughed and said, “Thank God, I’m not from this world.”
Normally when the doors to the practice court opened up, players were stretching or walking back to the locker room, but on this day, Bryant was in rare form.
“You mother-----s are soft like Charmin in this mother-----. God damn, is this the type of s--- that’s going on in these practices? Now I see why we’ve lost 20 f-----ing games,” Bryant said. “We’re soft like Charmin. We’re soft like s---.”
Bryant was not only going after Young, but also Lin, yelling at him. “This mother----- don’t got s---. He ain’t got s--- right now. Shoot! Shoot!”
After Lin missed a pull-up jumper, Bryant said, “I talked his a-- right into that bulls---. I talked his a--- right into that bulls---.”
When the practice was done, Bryant passed Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and said, “I’m supposed to practice and get better, Mitch. I’m supposed to practice and get better. These motherf-----s ain’t doing s--- for me.”
Bryant would later say, “Back in my younger days I used to practice like that every day.”
The Lakers were no longer championship contenders at the time, but much like with Jordan, there was a method to Bryant’s madness.
The next night, when the Lakers were in San Antonio to take on the Spurs, they were down 110-109 in overtime and Bryant passed the ball to Lin, who passed it to Young, who hit the game-winning three-pointer. Young finished with a game-high 29 points; Lin added 14 points and eight assists off the bench.
The Lakers would go on to win their next game and third in a row two days later in Minneapolis, but the star of the game was Bryant, who finished with 26 points and moved into third place on the NBA’s all-time career scoring list by passing, who else, Jordan.