After years of several players falling short, the second coming of Michael Jordan was realized by the arrival and emergence of Kobe Bryant. From their similar build and skill set to a ruthless competitive nature, the two shooting guards are considered spitting images.
While it was Bryant who eventually lived up to the billing as the next thing to Jordan, the path to get there wasn’t always clear or smooth sailing. As the No. 13 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Bryant found himself tied to the bench as a rookie.
It was a daunting reality for the then-18-year-old who had astronomical career goals. While the comparisons had yet to go into overdrive, Bryant’s first opportunity to face Jordan came on a Tuesday night in December 1996.
During an appearance on the ‘Holding Court with Geno Auriemma‘ podcast, Bryant explained he was hardly intimidated heading into the matchup, and revealed how he ultimately went about playing against Jordan:
“I was thinking in my mind, I didn’t care. I’m going to destroy this guy. I don’t care if I’m 18, I’m coming for blood. And the first thing he did, they ran a fifth-down sequence in the triangle. He caught the ball in the corner and he made his little pirouette spin that he does and sneaks baseline. I fell for it, and he went by me and dunked it. I remember just laughing to myself all the way up the court. I’ve seen that move thousands of times and I can’t believe I just fell for it. And then after that, it was like, ‘OK, let’s get to work.’ Every time I faced him I wanted to see how he was going to respond to his same moves. The best way I could figure out how to defend him was to see how he would defend himself if I hold a mirror up.”
Motivated as Bryant may have been, Jordan poured in 30 points, but did take 32 shots, in a Bulls win. Comparatively, the rookie guard scored just five points in a mere 10 minutes of action.
Bryant also scored five points in their second meeting that season, playing 13 minutes. Jordan had 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting in a game the Lakers won at the Great Western Forum.
Bryant and Jordan went on to have countless battles throughout their respective careers, including going toe-to-toe in multiple All-Star Games. Their rivalry breaded a healthy competition that the two now often speak fondly of. Even if each believes they were the superior player.
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