The first meeting between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan didn’t occur on the basketball court. And they didn’t really exchange words. It was Chicago Bulls big man Horace Grant who talked with the 13-year-old Black Mamba and instantly got a taste of the young man’s brash confidence.
In an excerpt from “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality” by Mike Sielski, per the Los Angeles Times, Joe Bryant brought his 13-year-old son to the Spectrum Arena — the Philadelphia 76ers’ home from 1967–1996 — when the Bulls visited. Since he was a former Sixer, Jelly Bean could free-roam the entire arena, even the team’s locker rooms.
Jordan said hello to the young Kobe and gave him a wristband. No other words were exchanged between the two. It was his future teammate Grant who exchanged a few sentences with Bryant.
“Do you play basketball?” Grant asked him.
“Yes,” Kobe said, “but I’m only in eighth grade.”
“Are you going to be a superstar one day?” Grant followed up.
“Yes,” Kobe said, “I might be.”
Fate and circumstance
With the benefit of hindsight, the response is so Kobe-like. But when Grant heard it, perhaps he thought of Kobe as a cute, but foolish 13-year-old shielded from life’s grinding realities. As Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
Every kid thinks he’s Napoleon Bonaparte, who could navigate through life’s labyrinths the way the French commander concocted a tactical masterpiece like the Battle of Austerlitz. It is idealism that powers them. But puberty — the changes and realizations chained to it — becomes their Waterloo. Still, Kobe was exactly like the greats that came before him. He had an unrelenting pursuit for glory. Losses did not repel him. They pushed him to go harder with finer surgical precision each time around.
It’s amazing that Kobe would become colleagues with Grant and Jordan just four years after that fateful meeting. MJ and Kobe’s first duel was forgettable. Bryant had five points on just 10 minutes of play. Meanwhile, Jordan dropped 30. Their second meeting mirrored the first as Kobe scored five points in 13 minutes while Mike scored 27.
But come to their third meeting, Kobe finally had the reigns cut off. He had 33 points against Jordan’s 36. During that game, Kobe approached Jordan midcourt to ask for some tips on his jump shot. It was a moment that sparked a long friendship.