Skip to main content

The anniversary of a game when Jordan realized Kobe was different than other young players in the NBA

jordan vs kobe copy

Today marked Kobe’s retirement ceremony’s anniversary when the Los Angeles Lakers hung the numbers 8 and 24 in the rafters, among other legends that played for the most famous NBA franchise. It also marks the anniversary of one of the first real duels between Michael Jordan and the late great Kobe Bryant, who made his name known in the NBA while still being a teenager.

After a couple of previous games against MJ, Kobe realized he would have to improve fast to compete with top players in the league and potentially surpass them as the NBA’s best player.

On December 17th, 1997, a 19-year-old Bryant continued his streak of great performances. He scored 27 against the Rockets, 30 against the Mavericks, and Chicago Bulls were up next. Both teams were missing key players since Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen didn’t play that night. Everything was set for a game that personified the present and, in some way, the NBA’s future.

Both MJ and Kobe didn’t disappoint the crowd at the United Center with their historic performances. MJ scored a game-high 36 points with incredible efficiency, while young Kobe led the Lakers with 33 points, but the Bulls won that game 104-83.

What is also memorable about this game is Kobe’s approach towards MJ when he asked him a piece of advice about footwork. Bryant wanted to know how to find more space to take a shot, on which Jordan told him he needed to feel the defense with his legs to gain an advantage on offense.MJ was more than willing to pass on the knowledge while recognizing this kid's potential to make it in the league.

"He certainly has a lot of skill and has a lot of confidence, and I think it's just a matter of time for him. When you realize how great he is in his second year in college, he learned a lot, he is in the top league, and he will continue to improve."

Michael Jordan, via House of Highlights

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Jordan wanted to share what he learned about the game, and Kobe was willing to learn. He also saw something in Kobe that made him stand out from the rest of the young and talented players in the league considered the 'next Michael Jordan'.

That enhances his basketball skill, and someone did that for me. I'm not against giving him any kind of hints about his game if he asks, but obviously, I won't give him too much information. The kid has learned a lot in the short amount of time he's been in the league, and I believe he is going to continue to learn.

Michael Jordan, via House of Highlights

Bryant said the advice MJ gave him helped him elevate his game a bit more. Kobe was a true geek when it comes to basketball, so any minute alone with MJ served as a purpose to gain knowledge.

"I learned a lot about his game, a lot about how technically sound Michael was. It's one thing to watch him play and then play against him. His technique was flawless. I wanted to make sure my technique was just as flawless. "Michael and I both know there are certain players we can intimidate and certain players that are afraid. Every now and then, you run into a player that has the same DNA you do and the same competitive spirit you do. You realize the bullying and trash talking is not going to work with this person."

Kobe Bryant, via Essentially Sports

MJ and Kobe played once more before Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls, but this game on a cold December night was something extraordinary.

It’s interesting to look at this game from the perspective of more than two decades later. Kobe realized he would need to emulate Jordan’s games as much as possible to be one of the best in the league. That is where he picked up a lot of the same mannerism, mindset, and approach Jordan had during his playing days. However, on that night 21 years ago, a young Kobe Bryant showed his full potential while at the same time learning from one of the best to do it. The fans that night were witnessing something truly remarkable and, in some way, the passing of a torch.

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose dunks the ball against Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic

“This is my nightmare” - Goran Dragic on Derrick Rose's vicious dunk 12 years ago

Dragic has a sense of humor about one of the most memorable dunks in NBA history - “At least I'm on TV all the time.”

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso

“The NBA told me I couldn’t” — Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso wasn't allowed to switch jersey number

Caruso wanted to honor Bill Russell, but the NBA had a surprising reason not to allow the switch.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and assistant coach Phil Handy

“This man doesn’t work hard all the time” - Lebron James’ work ethic was once questioned by an assistant coach

Phil Handy initially thought LeBron James didn't give his full effort all the time until he witnessed Zero Dark Thirty 23 in the playoffs.

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka talks with forward Jayson Tatum

"S**t, on Twitter, like everybody else." — Jayson Tatum on how he found out about Ime Udoka's suspension

Tatum, who mentioned that he developed a close bond with Udoka, also revealed that he hasn't spoken to his head coach since the suspension was reported.

USA guard Kobe Bryant, Spain forward Pau Gasol

Kobe Bryant ran through Pau Gasol’s chest just to send a message

Kobe Bryant wanted to set the tone from the first play, and it didn't matter if he had to pin down a close friend.