Kobe Bryant's career was, in many ways, defined by Michael Jordan. Bryant drew comparisons to the Chicago Bulls legend practically from the moment he entered the NBA. He was similarly athletic at the shooting guard position, which both used to win Slam Dunk Contests early in their careers. But both matured into more refined players over time and won championships in bunches once they did so.
Bryant never quite reached Jordan's six, ultimately retiring with five, but his pursuit of Jordan's title as the greatest player in NBA history was one of the defining stories of the past 20 years in the NBA. The two developed a close relationship over the years, and Jordan released an emotional statement on Sunday following Bryant's tragic death.
"I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing. Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter's love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world."
Dozens of players have been compared to Jordan over the years, but none have been as stylistically similar to him as Bryant was. Bryant's fadeaway jumper looks nearly identical to Jordan's, and they are two of the greatest isolation scorers of all-time. Bryant never won Defensive Player of the Year as Jordan did, but he was a First-Team All-Defensive selection nine times and impacted games just as much on that end of the floor as Jordan did.
Now the entire basketball world is mourning Bryant's death. He led a generation of players forced to bear the weight of the "next Jordan" label, and while the practice of comparing players to their predecessors will never disappear completely, Bryant living up to that title has eased the pressure on just about everybody that has followed him. We will never need another "next Jordan" again because we had Kobe Bryant.