If there hadn’t been an MJ, there wouldn’t have been a Kobe as we knew him.
Lots of people could do a lovely job of presenting the late Kobe Bryant at his enshrinement ceremony for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. If you played in the NBA as long as Bryant did (20 seasons), won as many NBA titles (five) and played in as many All-Star games (18), you’d have countless admirers with countless good thoughts. Teammates. Coaches. Competitors.
If a different route was favored, his wife could speak eloquently about him.
But it will be Michael Jordan doing the talking on May 15, because it has to be. Because it’s perfect.
If there hadn’t been an MJ, there wouldn’t have been a Kobe Bryant as we knew him. There wouldn’t have been Kobe’s fadeaway jumpers or hang-time dunks. There wouldn’t have been Kobe’s hands bunching up the hem of his shorts while he leaned on his knees to catch a breath. There wouldn’t have been Kobe’s icy glare or his Jordan-like speech pattern and talking points, right down to acknowledgments of “my supporting cast.’’ All of it borrowed/stolen from Michael.
There would have been a great Bryant without Jordan, a Hall of Fame Bryant, but probably not one who reached the level he eventually reached. There wouldn’t have been a Jordan 2. So if Kobe long ago picked Michael as the player he wanted to be, Michael should be the one to talk about the player Kobe became.
Jordan it will be then, front and center, when Bryant gets enshrined posthumously next month into the Hall. Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, died in a helicopter crash 15 months ago in Calabasas, Calif. He was 41. It was as shocking a development as the sports world has seen, with a legendary player being yanked from this life out of thin air. The photos and video of a sobbing Jordan speaking at Bryant’s memorial won’t be forgotten for a long time.
If you were looking for the perfect basketball player when Kobe was growing up, it was Jordan you found. Years later, if you were looking for someone who patterned his career almost perfectly after Jordan’s, someone who created a wax museum lookalike, you ran smack into Bryant. For some Bulls fans, the very idea of it was obnoxious. Hey, buddy, develop your own game. But as time went on and Kobe’s abilities simply couldn’t be denied, what could you do? Everything in sports is derivative. Bryant had simply torn off a piece of tracing paper, put it over Jordan and taken his own game to another level. Simple? You try it and see how close you get. Bryant was phenomenal, and so what if it looked familiar? If fans couldn’t have Jordan anymore, why not feast eyes on his dunk-elganger?
Jordan, too, was annoyed by Bryant’s copycat ways, by the phone calls, by his constant questions about what it takes to be great. But he eventually caved in, impressed by Bryant’s drive and doggedness. He started thinking of him as his “little brother.’’ They were more like twin brothers born 15 years apart. Same height, 6-foot-6, with Bryant maybe 15 pounds heavier.
So who better to capture Kobe in a Hall of Fame induction speech than Michael? No one.
I hope Jordan finds time to mention the trouble Bryant got into as a player, because that’s a part of the former Laker great, too. In 2003, he was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel worker, but when the alleged victim refused to testify in court, charges were dropped. Bryant apologized publicly but wouldn’t admit guilt, though he did settle out of court after the woman filed a civil suit. If we’re trying to paint a full picture of the man, all of that matters, just as Jordan surely will decide that mentioning the good work Bryant did off the court matters, too. To not mention his past troubles at this point in history, in an era when women’s rights are front and center, would be insensitive.
I haven’t looked at social media, but I’m guessing there are jokes that Jordan will look for a way to rip the late Jerry Krause during his Bryant speech, the way he ripped the former Bulls general manager during his own Hall speech in 2009. That would be taking the Michael-Kobe symmetry a bit too far, but with MJ, never say never.
I envision a gracious speech. I envision a speech in which, at one point, we forget who’s talking, Jordan or Bryant. That would be the ultimate praise for a late, great twin brother.