The 1998 NBA All-Star Game was a big moment for a young Kobe Bryant. The 19-year-old was voted in as a starter despite coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers that season which meant he was set to face off with the man he looked up to most in Michael Jordan.
The Lakers had already finished off their season series with the Chicago Bulls and with most assuming Jordan would be retiring after the 1997-98 campaign, the All-Star Game stood as likely the last time Bryant would get the chance to face off with Jordan.
Kobe, in his first All-Star Game, was determined to make an impact and there was no better way than to be able to go at the greatest player of all-time, and his intent on doing so stood out to Jordan during the contest.
ESPN’s 10-part documentary series “The Last Dance” recently revealed Jordan’s feelings on Bryant during the exhibition game. In the locker room Jordan spoke with his fellow Eastern Conference All-Stars about Kobe’s determination to make an impact:
“That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one-on-one. … He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it. … ‘I’m going to make this a one-on-one game.’”
But Jordan being the veteran that he is wasn’t going to just let Kobe shine, and had his own plan to make sure Kobe was going to work just as hard on the defensive end:
“He just wants to get to the offensive end and go one-on-one. I’m going to make his [expletive] work down here.”
Jordan would get the better of the young Kobe, leading the East to a 135-114 win while walking away with his third All-Star Game MVP Award after finishing with a game-high 23 points to go along with 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
But Bryant showed he could hang with the game’s best, leading the West with 18 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
The game was a learning experience for Kobe as he spoken about asking Jordan questions during the contest, especially about how to shoot his famous fadeaway jumper, a shot Kobe would grow to master himself.
In essence, this was one of the first steps in building an extremely close friendship and brotherhood between two of the greatest to ever play basketball. Jordan was determined to put the cocky, young Kobe Bryant in his place, but there is no doubt that he also earned his respect as well.