It’s rare to see Michael Jordan shed a tear in the public eye. On three different occasions, we have seen Jordan cry in public.
The first time was when a photographer captured an iconic photo of Jordan and his father sitting next to him as Jordan gripped the Larry O’Brien championship trophy with tears running down his face after winning his first NBA Championship.
The second time was when he fell to the middle of the floor in tears after winning his fourth NBA Championship in 1996 against the Seattle Supersonics. It was the first championship he won after his father passed away. Jordan told the media that the championship was for his father.
The last time was during the 2009 Hall of Fame ceremony. Jordan stood at the podium before all the NBA legends with tears running down his face while everyone gave him a standing ovation. It was clear that all of those moments meant something to him.
So, as Jordan stepped on the stage at Staples Center on Monday at “The Celebration of Life” for Kobe and Gianna Bryant, he could barely begin his speech as tears ran down his eyes. Only a tragedy like Bryant’s death could bring Jordan into the public spotlight like that.
“What Kobe Bryant was to me was an inspiration that someone truly cared about the way I played the game or the way he wanted to play the game,” Jordan said. “He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be, and as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.” It may come as a surprise that Jordan and Bryant were even close friends. From the outside looking in, no one could have ever known. As we vividly remember the 2003 All-Star Game, Jordan and Bryant going head to head was something amazing to see. Having two competitive players that play the same position and both are champions compete against each other. Jordan called Bryant a dear friend and explained their relationship, like big brother and little brother who were two basketball players with a passion to be the best and win championships.
Part of being the best is learning from the best. Bryant knew Jordan was the right person to talk to and learn everything he can.
“He used to call me, text me 11:30 p.m., 2:30 a.m., 3 o’clock in the morning, talking about post-up moves, footwork and sometimes the triangle,” Jordan said while laughing.
The triangle offense was a scheme created by Phil Jackson. Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls 1989- 1998. In a span of nine years, Jackson and Jordan won six NBA Championships together. So, when Jackson left the Bulls and went to Los Angeles to coach the Lakers in 1999, Bryant wanted to learn everything he could. He knew where he wanted to go and where he wanted to be. If that means he has to text Jordan in the middle of the night, then he will. Bryant was obsessed with being great.
“At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said. “Then, it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know.”
That passion was something Jordan understood because he knew he was the same way when he was young as well.
People may think Jordan is not paying attention to what is going on in the media, but he is for sure watching. As he continued his speech, he cracked a little joke about memes.
“Now, I have to look at another crying meme for the next … I told my wife I wasn’t going to do this because I don’t want to see that for the next three or four years. That’s what Kobe Bryant does to me,” Jordan said.
Nonetheless, Jordan shared what Bryant’s death really meant to him. “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said.
I’m sure whether you liked or disliked Bryant, everyone could agree with Jordan.