With Humor and Tears, Michael Jordan Paid Tribute to Kobe Bryant

With Humor and Tears, Michael Jordan Paid Tribute to Kobe Bryant

With tears streaming down his face, Michael Jordan stood before an arena full of mourners Monday to reveal to the world that he and Kobe Bryant were “very close friends.”

Public speaking engagements are rare for Jordan, but the Basketball Hall of Famer and owner of the Charlotte Hornets joined a star-studded lineup of eulogists at Monday’s memorial, speaking for 10 minutes about Bryant and the bond they built.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said.

Bryant arrived in the N.B.A. as a 17-year-old in 1996, openly determined to try to outdo Jordan’s achievements with the Chicago Bulls. At 41, Bryant was killed in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and seven others aboard.

Referring to Bryant’s obsessive drive to compete with him, Jordan said: “To me, that’s what I loved about the kid — absolutely loved about the kid. No matter where he saw me, it was a challenge.”

Jordan began to break down almost immediately after launching into his speech, and, about halfway through, he did not hesitate to poke fun at himself for being unable to hold his emotions together.

Acknowledging the infamous Crying Jordan meme that has circulated for years on social media, Jordan said: “Now he’s got me — I’m going to have look at another crying meme for the next …”

Huge applause from the Staples Center crowd seemed to cut Jordan off midsentence.

“I told my wife I wasn’t going to do this,” Jordan continued, “because I didn’t want to see that for the next three or four years. That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.”

Jordan, 57, told stories of Bryant bombarding him with late-night calls and text messages after he stopped playing, seeking advice on post-up moves, footwork and playing in Coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, which Jordan had mastered while winning six championships with the Bulls in the 1990s.

Early in Jackson’s tenure with the Lakers, which began in the 1999-2000 season, Jordan came to Los Angeles to visit his old coach, yet Bryant — still eager to measure himself in a one-on-one game against his boyhood idol — asked the retired superstar: “Did you bring your shoes?”

“He wanted to the best basketball player that he could be,” Jordan said. “As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.”

Jordan’s presence at the service was first widely noticed when he helped Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, off the stage after her emotional tributes to Kobe and Gianna.

“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” Jordan said. “He left it all on the floor.”

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