Magic Johnson Explains Why Kobe Bryant Is 'Closest' Player to Michael Jordan

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2020

Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan (23) reaches to defend against Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant (8) during the second quarter action, Feb. 1, 1998 in Inglewood, California. Lakers routed the Bulls, 112-87. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson appeared on First Take on Monday and said Kobe Bryant is the most comparable player to Michael Jordan following Bryant's appearance in Episode 5 of The Last Dance, ESPN's documentary series about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

The Los Angeles Lakers legend said:

"Kobe admired, respected Michael Jordan in such a way that he patterned his game after Michael's. Kobe is the closest thing to Michael that we've seen. Why? Because he can score that basketball just like Michael Jordan. He had the same mindset and attitude just like Michael Jordan. He took no prisoners, he wanted to just put his foot on your neck. He wanted to destroy you, mentally and physically, just like Michael Jordan and he wanted to have six championships like Michael Jordan. He got close, he got five, but he never got that sixth championship."

During Episode 5, Bryant also acknowledged that much of his game was modeled on Jordan's (h/t Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today):

"I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one, and your fans saying, 'Hey Kobe, you'd beat Michael one-on-one.' I feel like, 'Yo, what you get from me is from him.' I don't get five championships here (with the Los Angeles Lakers) without him because he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice."

Louis Riddick @LRiddickESPN

Kobe taking about MJ is just too good. Too f’ing good. The respect is so evident. Gives you chills man.. #TheLastDance

Jordan said during his eulogy of Bryant that much of that advice came in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning, when Bryant would call him with questions.

"He used to call me, text me 11:30, 2:30, 3 in the morning," Jordan said (h/t Ramona Shelburne of ESPN). "At first, it was an aggravation, but then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know."

The comparisons between the two were always inevitable. Both were ball-dominant shooting guards with breathtaking athleticism. Both played for Phil Jackson. Both won multiple titles (six for Jordan, five for Bryant). And both were fiercely competitive and sought to be the best players of their respective generations. 

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The most points scored by a player in a game against Michael Jordan was 57, by Dominique Wilkins in 1986. 2nd-most was 55 by Kobe Bryant on March 28, 2003. https://t.co/yi1Ma3ABXk https://t.co/KgCSmNyx6X

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Michael Jordan made 9 game-winning buzzer-beaters in his career (including the postseason), the most in NBA history. Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson are tied for the 2nd-most game-winning buzzer-beaters with 8 apiece. https://t.co/tgbuFmeTHE https://t.co/kLs7Ni988k

Bryant couldn't quite match the resume of Jordan, who won more MVP awards (5-1), Finals MVPs (6-2) and  scoring titles (10-2). Bryant beat him on longevity, though, playing 20 seasons—and most of them at a high level, as evidenced by his 18 All-Star Game appearances and 11 first-team All-NBA selections (14 and 10 for Jordan, respectively). 

In an age when everyone wanted to "be like Mike," Bryant came the closest.