”I don’t think I’d lose, other than Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves.” That’s how Michael Jordan finished answering who he’d love to play 1 on 1, assuming both players were in their prime, and how the duel would end. For a split second, we thought MJ was finally giving Kobe the nod, but he wrapped it up in a diss. Gilbert Arenas explained why this made Kobe lose his mind.
“You could wear the shoes but never fill them”
The moment he entered the NBA, it was no secret who Kobe was chasing. His moves, the way he walked, talked - even the tongue - Kobe was determined to be Michael 2.0. It’s also no secret Jordan is a passionate believer in tough love. The strongest steel is made in the hottest flames, and MJ took that to heart. So if MJ criticized you or dissed you, it meant he was testing you - that was a compliment. You could have what it takes to become elite. But for young Kobe, sometimes it was difficult to see it as such.
The craziest Kobe got was after his first matchup with Jordan in his Wizards days. The Lakers lost, and while leaving the court, MJ pointed to the Air Jordans Kobe was wearing and said, “You could wear the shoes but never fill them.” As we already know, Kobe didn’t speak to anyone for two weeks and dropped 55 on the Wizards in their next matchup.
We, unfortunately, found out a lot more about Kobe’s relationship with MJ after his untimely passing. Jordan opened up at the memorial service, and we learned the two were a lot closer than we thought. If we were to measure MJ’s opinion of someone by how much he trash-talked them in public, there’s no one who Jordan holds in higher regard than Kobe Bean Bryant. Gilbert Arenas offered up an explanation of why that is the case.
If you review MJ’s career, he didn’t respect you solely on talent. Above all else, Jordan respected fearless, competitive hard workers. If you respect the game, put in the hours, and don’t shy away from the moment, you’ll get the nod.
A lot of guys stepped up to Black Jesus and tried to go toe-to-toe with him. Most were sent home packing in quick fashion, never to be seen again. Kobe Bryant was that rare guy who took the lesson and came back stronger.
For most of us, it’s an insane level of commitment. Not talking to anyone for two weeks over a comment? Dude, you’re a millionaire athlete playing for the Lakers, take a step back and look at the big picture. The way the greatest players recognize a young one is of their kind is that insane dedication. No matter how many steps back they take, basketball is the entire picture. That’s what Gilbert Arenas says Kobe was a “f**king psycho when it came to Jordan dissing him”
“Yeah, he is. Everyone at the top is. You don't get to the top being normal. You don't get to the top thinking normal.”
Gilbert Arenas, DJ Vlad
These guys are consumed by winning in a way most of us can’t fathom. I think that’s why former players always had Kobe ranked higher than everyone else. Muhammad Ali famously said, “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.”
We judge and rank players according to what we see. They understand the true battle is won and lost long before they dance under those lights. What makes the greatest players special is that they find a way to dedicate all those hours we don’t see to basketball. To have the strength of character never to skip steps, have that cheat meal, or one extra drink.
To be so insane to be 100% sure you are worthy of filing the GOAT’s shoes.