Kobe Bryant reveals his mindset when going against Michael Jordan as a 19-year-old
Los Angeles Lakers legendary shooting guard Kobe Bryant entered his first season in the NBA as a scrawny neophyte alongside a star-studded team featuring All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal in 1996-97. Bryant first few years in the league also featured “Air Airness” Michael Jordan, the six-time champion guard for the Chicago Bulls.
Bryant, now 41 years old and several years into his post-professional career retirement, reflected on what it was like to play against a celebrated athlete and ruthless competitor in Jordan while the future NBA MVP was only a rookie.
Per The Players Tribune via SLAM:
“It was a huge honor. It became very serious to me because I didn’t want to make it seem like I was some ‘bubblegum’ player. And the hype about going against Mike — ‘Let’s go. Show me.’ I’ve been watching you play my whole life. Show me. Everybody calling you ‘Black Jesus’ … And I went out there and we went head up. I think his respect and appreciation for me really grew that day because you saw on the biggest stage I didn’t shy away from that confrontation. I looked forward to that confrontation.”
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) September 17, 2019
Bryant made the 1998 NBA All-Star Game as a 19-year-old in his second season with the Lakers. It was one of his first, high-profile matchups with Jordan, albeit in a less pressured environment than a non-exhibition game during the season or playoffs.
Regardless, the future Hall of Famer mentions how important the matchup with Jordan was in order to prove himself to the best player in the world.