March 28, 2003, their final epic duel – Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant. Mamba dropped 55 points, going 15/29 from the field. The best stat to prove Kobe’s focus – 9/12 from behind the arc. Bryant was at the peak of his power, and he made sure everyone knew there’s a new sheriff in town. But, Michael got the last laugh.
The memorial revealed how close they were. MJ’s legendary “Now he’s got me, I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next…” hit it home for me. In my neck of the woods, that’s what wakes, and memorials look like. There are tears, but as much as possible, there’s laughter. We all leave this world with a mixed bag – if people laugh at your wake, you did good. But that’s not the last laugh I’m referring to. This one happened in one of the most legendary sequences on that epic duel on March 28, 2003.
It was obvious Kobe was the better player at that time. MJ was 40, playing his last season, and had the ultimate old guy game. The athleticism was gone, but he can still outsmart you if given a chance. That’s exactly what happened near the end of the 3rd quarter.
Kobe was going full Mamba that night. This was his last chance to go up against his idol, his hero – the guy he spent the most time with while growing up, dropping buzzer-beaters in his room in Italy or outside his house in Philly. But at that moment, even Kobe Bean Bryant was human. He couldn’t help but laugh and look at his hero with awe.
For a second there, we got a glimpse of a relationship that had been developing behind the scenes from the moment a skinny 17-year-old kid joined the NBA in 1996. The Lakers won the game, and Kobe stole the show. But Michael Jordan got the last laugh that night.