With every sip of Gatorade we took in the middle of our pick-up games, a familiar tune followed suit.
Sometimes I dream, that he is me! You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be!
The moment we sprung back up to the courts and started to shoot fadeaway after fadeaway, the song’s volume grew louder and louder.
I dream I move, I dream I groove, Like Mike! If I could be Like Mike!
By the 1990s, Michael Jordan had transformed from a basketball superstar to a global sensation. Episode 5 of The Last Dance touched on this topic by going through MJ’s journey as the face of a rising sneaker brand and member of an iconic team that turned the NBA into a global commodity. If we were to summarize the one-hour episode into two words, it would be: Like Mike.
He was clean-cut and charismatic. He’d gracefully glide through the air and finish dunks with raw power. His ability to mix two contrasting things to give birth to something so beautiful was what made him so desirable as an idol. He had transcended beyond the sport. Michael’s mere presence gave birth to brand new cultures in basketball that were different, but certainly exciting.
But he wouldn’t be in that position in the first place if it weren’t for one thing. “My game was my biggest endorsement,” said Jordan. “What I did on the basketball court, my dedication to the game, led to all this other stuff.”
That’s something people didn’t understand. Outside of the commercials and the TV guestings were hours of work put into the court so he could hone his craft. As phenomenal and out of this world as he was, Jordan was human. Hard work was a requirement to reach his level of greatness. Not everyone understood that, except for one kid out of Philadelphia.
Drafted with the 13th pick out of Lower Merion High School, Kobe Bryant came into the NBA as an ambitious young kid. He was fearless and had an undying belief that he was meant for greatness. He realized, however, that was easier said than done.
“It was a rough couple of years for me, coming to the league,” said Bryant in The Last Dance. “At the time, the league was so much older. It’s not as young as it is today. So nobody was thinking much of me.”
This was especially the case after Kobe had four airballs during the ’97 Playoffs against the Jazz. He was criticized to the brim. In a large stage he was exposed in the cruelest way possible. He looked nothing like the next Michael Jordan.
That moment could have easily broken down the young Bryant. But instead, it fueled him even more.
“I didn’t have an offseason,” said Bryant on what he did after that playoff run. “As soon as we landed, I went straight to the gym.”
As brash and as confident as Bryant was, there was always a certain humility to him, even when he came into the NBA. He knew he was good. He knew he was meant for greatness. But he also knew he needed to work hard and learn to supplement whatever confidence he had.
“(A)t that point, Michael provided a lot of guidance for me,” said Kobe. That was one of the magnificent things about the Laker legend. Whatever confidence he had in his basketball game, he brought into how he approached certain people. This was especially evident with Jordan. Imagine waiting for MJ to go out of his locker room and suddenly asking him for tips. It sounds easy but to do it is another thing altogether. But Kobe never wavered. He confidently and willingly asked for his hero’s guidance. And eventually, his idol would turn into his bigger brother.
We started to see shades of Jordan in Kobe’s game. The turnaround jumper. The pull-ups. Even the scowls. Comparisons were inevitable and imaginary one-on-one battles followed suit. Prime Kobe could have easily started to preach that he’d beat Jordan mano-a-mano. But his humility would shine once again.
“I truly hate discussions about who would win one-on-one,” lamented Bryant. “What you get from me is from him. I don’t win five championships without him, ‘cause he guided me so much and he gave me so much great advice.”
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) May 28, 2018
Kids dreamt they moved, and they dreamt they grooved, Like Mike. But Kobe didn’t just dream. He actually made it happen.
More than the fadeaways and the intelligence on the court, what we got from Bryant was his relentlessness, drive, and maniacal nature when working on the game he loved the most. It was the most apt way of respecting a basketball icon because if it weren’t for those things, MJ wouldn’t be the legend he is today. His cultural impact didn’t begin in front of a camera; instead it came to life with the hard work he put in the basketball court. That’s what it truly meant to be Like Mike and Kobe embodied it the best.