While the debates on who is the greatest NBA player ever will rage on forever, one thing very few argue is the two most maniacal competitors to ever step foot on the court are Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
There always has been a healthy respect between the two, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of trash-talking and one incident in particular showed just how fierce Bryant can get.
Bryant and Jordan faced off early on in the former’s career while he was just getting started and the latter was on his way out but still at the top of his game. But when Jordan returned to the Washington Wizards, Bryant had established himself as one of the league’s best players while winning championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the 2002-03 NBA season, Jordan’s Wizards got a win early in the season over Bryant’s Lakers and he had some words for his protege afterwards. Gilbert Arenas revealed on his No Chill Gil Podcast that Jordan reportedly told Bryant he would never fill his shoes:
“In Washington, Jordan gets that win. Jordan hits (Bryant) on the butt and says, ‘You can put the shoes on, but you ain’t never gon’ fill em. You’re never gonna fill em, you’re never gonna fill these shoes.’ That’s basically what he was telling Kobe. So they say Kobe didn’t talk to the team for two weeks. Like, he just went silent, but he was on one million.”
Bryant’s competitiveness knows no bounds so hearing something like that from his idol had to sting and put him in a completely different mindset. It apparently got to the point that his Lakers teammates went to head coach Phil Jackson, who informed them of what went down:
“So they say, ‘Phil [Jackson], what’s up with Kobe? Is he mad at us?’ Phil said, ‘Nah, he ain’t mad at you. (Jordan) told him he can copy him all he wants and do all that but he’ll never fill these shoes.’ […] (Lakers) were like, ‘Yeah, I feel sorry for the next time we play Jordan.’ They already knew what was about to happen against MJ when MJ came to LA […] He didn’t even have to tell the team. Once they heard what happened, it’s what Kobe decided to do.
And what happened was one of Bryant’s most unreal performances that has somewhat been forgotten behind his many other amazing moments. He dropped 42 points in the first half and 55 points total while hitting nine three-pointers in the team’s 108-94 win over the Wizards.
The moral of the story here is one everyone already knows: Bryant is arguably the most insane, crazy, competitive players to ever grace the NBA court and it’s usually best if players don’t give him extra motivation — even if it’s Michael Jordan.