Kobe Bryant adored Michael Jordan.
That was clear in the way Bryant would talk about about the Chicago Bulls legend, but it was also evident in the way that he played over the course of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Everything Mike did, Kobe wanted to do, too — and to Bryant’s credit, he came pretty damn close. However, he couldn’t do it all on his own.
In order to replicate Jordan’s style to the best of his ability, Bryant had to go straight to the source and figure out what made Jordan great. Sometimes Bryant did it by phone, as Jordan revealed at Bryant’s memorial service in February, but Bryant preferred to do it in person. In fact, according to a report by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Bryant would talk for Jordan so long after they played each other that he’d keep the Lakers’ team bus waiting:
“As early as I can remember, whenever the Lakers played the Bulls, Kobe would wait outside the tunnel for Michael to leave,” said Tim Grover, a personal trainer who worked with Jordan in Chicago and later with Bryant in Los Angeles. “And Michael was always the last person to leave the locker room. He took forever. But Kobe would wait and wait for him.”
And the rest of the Lakers players would be on the bus, waiting on Bryant — a rookie — who was waiting on Michael.
“But Kobe was like, ‘The bus is going to have to wait. Because I don’t know when I’m going to get this opportunity.’”
There are a lot of stories about how devoted Bryant was to becoming the best basketball player he could be, but this is an example of Bryant’s willingness to become great by any means necessary. If his teammates were going to get a little irritated with him for keeping them waiting, that was fine with him — he knew the endgame.
Did his uncompromising nature make him a few enemies along the way? Sure, but in Bryant’s words: “Friends can come and go, but banners are forever.” Because of the extra time Bryant spent with Jordan, there are five banners hanging in the rafters at Staples Center.