Lakers guard Danny Green, like so many people of a certain age, geographical demographic or preference, rooted for Michael Jordan. He was such a fan, he resented Bryant for being a mimic.
Those feelings have since been rendered silly, replaced by an appreciation of just how hard it was to get so close.
“Growing up, it was kind of a weird love/hate relationship. I was a Jordan fan. And if you were a Jordan fan, you kind of didn’t like that Kobe was so much like him,” Green said. “As you get older, you start respecting that man, understanding what it takes and how hard it is to be like Mike. He was the closest thing to it. And you understand his craft, respected it.
“As you play against him, the battles we had, the interactions, you become a fan just by nature, regardless of what rivalry, whether you like Mike over him or [LeBron James] over him. You respect that man, what he did, what he built here.”
Dismissing Bryant because he wasn’t Jordan, because he wasn’t the absolute best, feels like such a blown opportunity to celebrate his career while it was happening. It’s something that’s come up in conversations, as have these five other observations from a week that changed the NBA forever:
He was real person, not just an IG handle
Lakers star Kobe Bryant pauses for a moment as confetti streams down at the Staples Center following his final game on April 13, 2016. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant, the teenager obtained by the Lakers in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets, takes part in an ad shoot for Adidas at Will Rogers State Beach. (Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant was already shooting his first commercial before taking his first shot for the Lakers. (Los Angeles Times)
Laker rookie Kobe Bryant, 18, listens to coach Del Harris during a break in a 129-99 victory over the Washington Bullets at the Forum. Bryant scored 13 points. (Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant drives against Utah center Greg Ostertag in the Western Conference Finals at the Forum in Inglewood. Utah won 109-98 to give the Jazz a 3-0 lead in the series. (Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant is dejected after losing the ball late in the second half of Game 3 of the 1999 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs at the Forum. The Lakers lost, 103-91, giving the Spurs a 3-0 advantage in the series. The Spurs went on to win the series 4-0. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant drives past Chris Webber in Game 4 of the first round of the 2000 Western Conference playoffs at Arco Arena in Sacramento. The Kings won, 101-88, but the Lakers went on to win the series in five games and advanced to face the Phoenix Suns in the next round. (Bob Galbraith / Associated Press)
Despite Jason Kidd’s hand in his face, Kobe Bryant puts up the winning shot in the Lakers’ 97-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Arena. The Lakers won the series, 4-1. (K.C. Alfred / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had a moment to relax after winning their first title together in the 2000 NBA Finals. The two kicked back after a 116-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 at Staples Center. Bryant is holding the championship trophy and O’Neal has his Finals MVP trophy. (Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant performs on stage at the House of Blues in West Hollywood in 2000 during a celebration of the launch of his record label, Heads High Entertainment. (Clarence Williams / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant is swarmed by teammates Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Shaquille O’Neal as he heads to the foul line in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Bryant scored 45 points as the Lakers beat the Spurs, 104-90, on their way to a sweep of the series. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant goes up for a dunk in the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during Game 3 of the 2001 Western Conference finals at Staples Center. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers players Kobe Bryant, left, Lindsey Hunter and Shaquille O’Neal celebrate their NBA title victory over the New Jersey Nets on June 12, 2002. (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant, with his wife, Vanessa, at his side, holds a news conference at Staples Center in 2003 to discuss accusations by a 19-year-old Colorado woman that he sexually assaulted her. He conceded he was guilty of adultery, but he declared he was innocent of charges of felonious sexual assault. The charges were later dropped. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Lakers Karl Malone, left, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Shaquille O’Neal before their preseason opener with the Los Angeles Clippers. It was Bryant’s first game since sexual assault charges were filed against him in Colorado. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant, left, looks at his defense attorney Pamela Mackey as he is advised by Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett during his felony sexual assault hearing in Eagle, Colo., on Aug. 6, 2003. (Barry Gutierrez / Associated Press)
Hours after pleading not guilty to a felony sexual assault charge in Colorado, an exhausted Kobe Bryant is congratulated by teammate Derek Fisher after the Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs, 98-90, in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Staples Center. Bryant scored 42 points as the Lakers tied the series at 2-2. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant writhes in pain after injuring his right ankle during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 13, 2005, in Los Angeles. Bryant was injured when he landed awkwardly on his right foot while going for a rebound under the Cavaliers’ basket and had to be helped off the court. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant and his new backcourt partner, William “Smush” Parker, during a 2005 preseason game against Utah at the Anaheim Pond. (Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant stands next to coach Phil Jackson during a playoff game against the Phoenix Suns in April 2006. (Matt York / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant walks off the court with his wife, Vanessa, and daughter Natalia after scoring a career-high 81 points in a Lakers win over the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center on Jan. 22, 2006. (Noah Graham / NBAE/Getty Images)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant scores in front of Toronto’s Matt Bonner on his way to scoring 81 points during the Lakers’ 122-104 victory on Jan. 22, 2006. (Matt A. Brown / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant celebrates the Lakers’ victory over the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant celebrates after winning his fourth NBA title following the Lakers’ win over the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the 2009 NBA Finals. (Emmanuel Dunand /AFP/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant celebrates the Lakers’ Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant holds the NBA championship trophy during the team’s 2010 NBA title victory parade. (David McNew / Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant shows off what he can do with a basketball during an event in Milan, Italy, in September 2011. (Luca Bruno / Associated Press)
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant goes up for a shot over New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler during a game in December 2011. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
U.S. players Kevin Durant, left, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant celebrate after winning the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. (Charles Krupa / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant writhes in pain after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during a game against the Golden State Warriors on April 12, 2013. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant warms up before playing against the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 8, 2013, in his first game back from a torn Achilles tendon. (Harry How / Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant is congratulated by teammates after passing Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 14, 2014. (Jeff Wheeler / TNS)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant goes to hug his family after his final NBA game on April 13, 2016. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant poses with his family after getting his jerseys retired before a game between the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Dec. 18, 2017. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)
Lakers legend Kobe Bryant walks off the court after his jersey retirement ceremony at the Staples Center in 2017. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant smiles after winning an Academy Award for best animated short film for “Dear Basketball” on March 4, 2018. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant shares a laugh with his daughter Gianna while attending a women’s basketball game between Long Beach State and Oregon on Dec. 14, 2019. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant watches a tribute video at Staples Center before the final game of his career on April 13, 2016. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Bryant came before basketball internet, meaning he didn’t have to worry about things like “his brand” on social media when he entered the NBA, and that he didn’t have Instagram as a place to comment or send subliminal shade. While he would eventually be at the center of so many basketball arguments on places like Twitter, it didn’t dominate his personality.
One of the reasons so many reporters were able to share so many touching stories about Bryant is because they spent real time talking with him, interacting, arguing, — exchanging real emotion in ways that don’t get convened the same when a social media post qualifies as interaction.
Had Bryant entered the league 10 years later, it wouldn’t have been the same.
His stats are ridiculous
Julius Erving. David Robinson. John Stockton. Bill Russell. Steve Nash. Walt Frazier. Kevin McHale. Wes Unseld. Chauncey Billups. Chris Mullin. Paul Arizin. James Worthy.
Kobe Bryant missed more shots in his NBA career than any of those players attempted.
It’s just an incredible amount of volume, so many years as a player who always wanted to take the big shot. While maybe annoying to teammates and critics, viewed with the power of hindsight, Bryant’s audacity deserves celebrating.
Like Green said, Lakers fans had to listen to the Bryant slander when it came to Jordan. So they pushed back. They had to defend him when he was held responsible for the end of the Shaquille O’Neal-Bryant partnership. They rode with him when MVPs went to Allen Iverson and Nash. And when LeBron James was ascending, Lakers fans argued that Bryant was still the better player.
And then there was the sexual assault allegation, an event that either turned fans off or galvanized them even stronger behind him.
Bryant was not someone you could be dispassionate about. This week, that’s been more obvious than ever.
Kobe and the WNBA
Whether Gianna Bryant ever made it to the WNBA — and that would’ve been an impossible projection to put on a 13-year-old, supporters of women’s basketball have taken Bryant’s death extra hard.
Bryant’s interest in sharing his knowledge of the game through the Mamba Sports Academy seemed endless, with his daughter and her AAU team the recipients of a basketball genius’ musings.
On a larger scale, there had been hope that Bryant’s interest in women’s sports would help further legitimize the WNBA. But in death, people have seen how invested Bryant was in the sport of basketball — regardless of gender — and that should help open some more eyes about the league.
In speaking with people in the back hallways of Staples Center on Friday, there was a small sense that people would be able to move on now, because somehow, on a night so sad, people managed to enjoy a hard-fought basketball game.
A big part of that was LeBron James, who eulogized Bryant and helped transition the crowd from a state of mourning to one of celebration.
“I’ve been telling that man he should be running for president,” one teammate said on the way out of the building.
The way Bryant’s death united Los Angeles in grief, James helped unite people in a slight sense of healing — maybe the toughest test he’s ever faced.