Michael Jordan acknowledged that he will struggle to keep his composure as he inducts the late Kobe Bryant into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Jordan was rarely forthcoming about his emotions during his career. But for a few noteworthy exceptions, the six-time NBA champion’s human side has frequently eluded fans and the media.
However, presenting his late friend for Hall of Fame induction comes with an emotional cost that forces Jordan to wonder how he can maintain his composure.
“I was thinking, at first, I might be a little somewhat nervous about it, but then I realized I’m not going to be nervous about showing emotions for someone I absolutely loved,” he explained to ESPN earlier this week during a lengthy interview.
“That’s the humanistic side of me—people tend to forget I do have one.”
Jordan publicly expressed his feelings last February, speaking at Bryant’s memorial service at the Staples Center, less than a month after the Los Angeles Lakers star’s death.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine people killed on January 26, 2020, when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California.
Jordan, fighting back tears, referred to the five-time NBA champion as his “little brother,” and joked that his eulogy would resurrect the famed “crying Jordan” meme.
“I told my wife I wouldn’t do this, because I didn’t want to see it for the next three or four years,” Jordan explained during the service. “This is the effect Kobe Bryant has on me. He understands how to connect with you individually […] even though he is a pain in the a**.”
Jordan disclosed to ESPN that Bryant never directly asked him to present him to the Hall of Fame. Vanessa Bryant, Bryant’s wife, approached Jordan following the five-time NBA champion’s death last year. Jordan will make Bryant’s debut on Saturday.
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who battled Bryant for over a decade, will both be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“Vanessa [Bryant’s wife] asked me once he passed away,” Jordan explained. “In all honesty, I suspected he would. It was either me or Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal], as the two of us shared three championships.”
“To be honest, it would be an incredible privilege. It is comparable to defending a family member. He demonstrated the utmost regard for me by attempting to replicate those actions I took.”
The final episode of The Last Dance, ESPN’s ten-part documentary about Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls that aired last spring, was dedicated to Bryant posthumously. Jordan has made many references to his unique friendship with the late Lakers legend.
By the time Bryant joined the league in 1996, Jordan had already won four NBA championships and would add two more before retiring for the second time in 1998.
Bryant exemplified the heir apparent position to a tee, filling the NBA’s colossal MJ-sized void.
Bryant arguably matched Jordan’s ferocious desire to win and passion better than any other player before or after him. He also had the closest resemblance to the Bulls legend’s style of play.
The parallels did not stop there. Bryant, like Jordan, flourished under Phil Jackson’s tutelage. The “Zen Master” led the Bulls to six championships but, like Jordan, left Chicago in 1998 to take over the Lakers.
Jackson’s Lakers won three straight titles between 2000 and 2002, led by Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, before Bryant added two more titles in 2009 and 2010 during Jackson’s second tenure in Los Angeles.
Although similarities between Bryant and Jordan abounded, Bryant vehemently denied the existence of a rivalry between him and Jordan in The Last Dance.
“I have a feeling, yo, that what you get from me comes from him. Without him, I would not have won five championships here because he led me so well and gave me so much sound advice “‘He said.
“I despise debating who will prevail in a one-on-one match. ‘Hey Kobe, you defeated Michael in a one-on-one match.'”