Among the hallmarks of Kobe Bryant's career was becoming the closest thing to Michael Jordan a certain generation of NBA fans, as well as future players, will ever see. But before the championships and scoring prowess made people make those associations, he was a promising, but raw, teenager fresh out of high school trying to make it in the league.
One of his earliest defensive jobs was the thankless task of guarding the very man who his game became a near mirror image of. In a video reposted by Darren Rovell Friday, Bryant shares the story of the first time he got hoodwinked by His Airness on a screen play that just left the then-teenager speechless at how cool the move was.
(Warning: NSFW language)
A year ago today, I asked Kobe what it was like to defend Michael Jordan for the first time.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 18, 2020
His answer gave us the many angles of Kobe — his competitive fire, his humor and his ability to, like MJ, remember everything.
RIP Mamba. We miss you here. pic.twitter.com/7gh4mINkgX
"[Jordan] catches the ball in the corner, the center comes up and sets the screen and roll in the corner," Bryant recalled. "I'd seen him pirouette so many times that and I remember telling myself 'I'm not going to fall for that one,' and try to force him over the screen. Sure as s--t, he leaned down like he was going over the screen. That s--t looked so believable... That motherf----r spun so fast that he was dunking the ball before I knew what the hell happened.
"I was 18 and was like 'oh s--t that was pretty fucking cool.' Then running back down the court he was like 'A lot faster in person, isn't it?'"
The story serves as a reminder that even greatest athletic heroes have these very human moments during hyper-competitive situations.
Bryant died on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others while on the way to a basketball tournament for his child.