There's an uncanny resemblance between NBA heavyweights Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. From the style to the swagger to the success, the two all-time great shooting guards are near mirror images of one another.
According to Jordan, that didn't happen by accident.
The six-time champion dished on the five-time champion at an NBA predraft camp in 2008. In his new biography Michael Jordan: The Life, sports scribe Roland Lazenby relayed Jordan's words of how Bryant modeled his game after that of the tongue-wagging Hall of Famer (via Lakers Nation's Ryan Ward):
But how many people lighted the path for me? That’s the evolution of basketball. There’s no way I could have played the way I played if I didn’t watch David Thompson and guys prior to me. There’s no way Kobe could have played the way he’s played without watching me play. So, you know, that’s the evolution of basketball. You cannot change that.
The similarities between the two are striking.
Bryant has adopted a number of Jordan's trademarks: the physics-defying hang time, the lethal turnaround, the stop-on-a-dime pull-up. Hide the face and the jersey, and it's hard to tell which player's highlight reel is rolling.
"It’s no secret that Kobe studied Jordan while perfecting his own game," wrote The Source's Shay Marie. "It’s not something Kobe denies and it’s something Jordan likes to remind us about."
In an interview with reporters promoting NBA 2K14 before the start of the season, Jordan gave Bryant the best chance to beat him playing one-on-one "because he steals all my moves."
Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, and no league seems to better understand that premise than the NBA:
With Jordan and Bryant, though, there's more than just a mimicked style of play.
Like Jordan, Bryant has flashed a ruthless killer instinct that can only come from within. The pair demoralized opponents with insatiable competitive drives, demanded the world from teammates and even more from themselves.
There is no way to add these innate assets. They cannot be learned—one simply has them or they don't.
So, it's in that sense that Jordan stops short of labeling Bryant as simply a carbon copy of himself.
"He's not one that's so different than me, but he is different than me," Jordan said. "People just have to understand that, and realize that you may see a lot of similarities, but he's definitely different."
Given the collective success between the two—11 NBA titles, eight Finals MVP awards—expect to see more Jordan and Bryant clones surface in the coming generations of hoop dreamers. Just don't expect the performances to always look as convincing as Bryant's have.
Bryant added elements of Jordan's game to expand his own. Without that starting set of skills, Bryant might just be another guy at the park calling "Jordan!" right before he bricks a turnaround jumper.
Both Bryant and Jordan have their predecessors to thank for easing their ascents, but the biggest credit for their accomplishments goes to themselves.
Something tells me neither player would need reminding of that fact.
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