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Kobe Bryant Speaks On One Of His Earliest Mentors, Michael Jackson

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Kobe Bryant will retire a Lakers‘ legend Wednesday night after 20 years of playing in the NBA. On his way to becoming an icon during those 20 years, Kobe met with numerous heroes of his that would ultimately become his mentors including, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Bill Russell, just to name a few.

This isn’t news to most fans who know anything about the one they call “The Black Mamba.” Bryant’s obsessive nature and dedication to the game have been well documented. He picked the brain of every legend he met with and watched hour and hours of film. Only to take his favorite moves and shots from other players and make them his own.

But, according to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, it wasn’t only NBA legends that young Kobe looked up to.

During the summer after his rookie season, Bryant received a phone call from none other than the late Michael Jackson.

“He’s calling me out of the f—— blue,” Bryant recalled. “I don’t think it’s a real phone call.”

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Jackson said. “Don’t come back to the pack and be normal for the sake of blending in with others. Don’t dumb it down.”

A message that would resonate with Kobe throughout his career and help mold him into the ferocious player so many people love to hate.

Bryant would eventually meet with Jackson at his Neverland Ranch just outside Los Olivos, California.

“He told me, ‘This is what you love. This is your obsession. I know what it’s like to be different. Embrace it.'”

From there Jackson would go on to tell Kobe all about how he made hits like “Thriller” and “Bille Jean” and the relationships he sought out with other legends in music, including Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono.

“You’ve got to study all the greats,” Jackson told Kobe. “You’ve got to learn what made them successful and what made them unsuccessful.”

That night, Kobe drove him with a stack of old movies and a book The King of Pop assigned to him to study. Something Kobe had become accustomed to in his quest to be one of the greatest.

RELATED: Kobe Bryant Discusses His Brutal Achilles Tear In 2013

They would stay in contact for years while Kobe climbed to the peak of basketball greatness and Jackson kept making music. But it would all come to and end when both were taken to court for separate charges related to sexual misconduct. This would bring a halt to their relationship, as being associated with each other could do further damage to their already tarnished public perception.

“It was crazy,” Bryant says. “We kinda lost touch … because we both had issues.”

Kobe would end up settling a civil suit while Jackson was found not guilty of all charges. Kobe was, for the most part, able to rebuild his reputation. The same cannot be said for Jackson, who faced vicious public scrutiny and unfortunately passed away before getting one last chance at a world tour to vindicate himself.

But Kobe still remembers Jackson as one of the greatest influences in his life.

“Michael Jackson was probably the biggest mentor I’ve ever had,” Bryant says. “That phone call in Gold’s Gym literally changed my life.”

And as far as Kobe’s thoughts on blending in?

“He wasn’t normal,” Kobe says. “Most geniuses aren’t.”

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