Episode 5 of “The Last Dance,” an ESPN documentary series featuring Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, was an emotional one as it explored the relationship between six-time champion and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s interviews were conducted last year, and of course prior to his tragic passing in a helicopter accident. “The Last Dance” contains unseen footage from the Bulls’ 1997-98 season, which was their sixth and final championship run.
The 1997-98 season also happened to be the first time Bryant was named to the NBA All-Star Game as a starter in the Western Conference, giving him an opportunity to go up against Jordan and the game’s best on the biggest stage for the first time.
While fans went years without much insight into Bryant and Jordan’s relationship, this documentary, as well as Jordan’s speech at Bryant’s memorial service in February, have provided just that.
It’s no secret that Bryant looked up to Jordan and modeled his game after him. In his interview for “The Last Dance,” Bryant explained what it felt like to go up against Jordan overall and in that All-Star Game, via ESPN:
“I grew up watching Michael on TV, and now you’ve got a chance to go face-to-face with him. Get a chance to really see and feel the strength, the speed, quickness. It was fun to be out there.”
The documentary showed some great footage of Jordan talking about a 19-year-old Bryant in the locker room prior to the start of the All-Star Game, calling him “that little Laker boy” and discussing his desire to go one-on-one with everybody.
Bryant had played against Jordan four times in his career prior to the 1998 All-Star Game, but that was really the first time they faced off on the big stage with everyone watching.
He got a basketball lesson that night as Jordan had 23 points, six rebounds and eight assists in a 135-114 win for the Eastern Conference, taking home MVP honors. Bryant finished with a Western Conference-leading 18 points, six rebounds and one assist, proving he belonged with the best players in the world and kickstarting a Hall of Fame career.
While it’s heartbreaking that Bryant’s interview for “The Last Dance” will be the last we ever hear from him, it was great to get some more insight into his relationship with Jordan. It appears there may be some new Bryant content in the future as well as it was recently revealed that he carried a camera crew around during his final NBA season, similar to Jordan, and a documentary may be in the works.