The role of a big brother is a tough role to play. You are responsible for a younger, less experienced human being. You know that they are going to try to emulate everything you do. Most of the time, they’ll probably be annoying, asking you questions about your actions, trying to get behind the reasoning of it, and trying to realize how exactly did you do it. Sometimes those questions will relate to usual everyday stuff, and sometimes they will want to know how to feel the defense while turning around on jump shot.
That was the first piece of advice Mike gave to Kobe. That was the moment a brotherly relationship between the two had started. It was the moment when a young, knows-it-all star in the making humbled in front of his lifetime hero and asked for advice. That was also the moment when Jordan accepted his role as a big brother. A role that probably caused him a lot of headaches, but the one which helped the creation of one of the best to do it.
Episode 5 of The Last Dance paints the perfect picture of that relationship. It shows us the moments before and during the NBA All-Star game in 1998, the first one that featured both of them. First, we see Michael seemingly mocking Kobe, talking about how he is going to make the game into his one on one battles. Kobe wasn’t nearly experienced enough and didn’t know how to let the game come to him. But he was confident. Probably too much, according to his peers. Jordan seemed irritated by “the Laker boy,” but still mentored him during the game. He recognized himself in Kobe. MJ saw a kid who was ready to do it all to become the best version of himself on the basketball court. And he was inquisitive. He wanted to know it all. Michael shared his wisdom with his little brother, and Kobe just listened and absorbed.
After the release of the latest episodes, The Last Dance director Jason Hehir revealed some stuff about Kobe about his interview at the start of the fifth episode. Kobe was hesitant to share his MJ stuff with Hehir, and he made him earn what he got for the documentary.
“To sit there and discuss with him, he’s going to hold things close to the vest, and he’s not going to give up his love for MJ that easily, because I’m sure in his mind he’s just as much of a GOAT as MJ or LeBron or anyone else you want to bring up. One of my first questions was ‘when was your first pair of Jordan’s that you got and told me about your idolization of him as a kid‘ and he said ‘I was a Magic guy and I didn’t wear Jordan’s because we couldn’t get them in Italy.‘ He would not give it up. I wanted him to say, ‘that was my guy.‘ It was when we got further in conversation that he started to say that he would study all of MJ’s moves. Kobe said he didn’t like being asked about who would win in a game of one on one between him and MJ. He said he doesn’t like discussing it because it’s disrespectful to him even to discuss that he might be able to beat him, so when people ask him about it, he’s like ‘slow your roll, everything you see from me came from him.‘ He was a tough nut to crack, he was competitive about everything, and he was going to make me earn the sound bites that we got for the doc, he wasn’t just going to sit there and start pouring out his soul.”Jason Hehir, Jalen & Jacoby Aftershow
Kobe firmly held to the stuff Jordan shared with him. He wasn’t going to let anyone get it just like that. It wasn’t that Kobe was stingy. He was just possessive about the stuff his big brother gave him, just like any little brother would be. Kobe was known to be a great mentor for young upcoming players in the league. But first, you had to show him you were worthy of his effort and basketball intellect. You had to show him you deserve it, just like he had to with Michael. Kobe wasn’t just a nuisance to Jordan when it came to basketball-related stuff. He sought Michael’s advice relating to business, family, and life in general. In every aspect of life, Kobe sought Jordan’s help. Just like a true little brother does.
Kobe, who was once the subject of Jordan’s ridicule, became one of his closest friends. He became the only person Jordan wanted to talk about. Bryant showed admiration and respect to MJ and reached out to him. He showed his determination to be a better basketball player and a better person, which was enough for MJ to take him under his mentorship. And not just Jordan. Kobe showed respect to all the people he admired throughout his life and showed an unmatched willingness to learn. They all provided him with advice, which eventually made him the player he was.
One thing both Kobe and Jordan shared was their passion for the game. The love for both grew into an obsession. But at the end of the day, what brought them together was mutual respect, first shown by Kobe and later gained by Jordan. Michael can be sure that he fulfilled his role as a big brother. He helped Kobe become the best version of himself. The version that Kobe was satisfied with after his retirement. That, as Bryant said, was mostly because of Jordan, who, other than his NBA accolades can mostly be proud of his little brother, as he became one of Michael’s most significant accomplishments.