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 be 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.”
Although he needed 20 N.B.A. seasons compared with Jordan’s 15, Bryant’s accomplishments brought him as close to “Next Jordan” status as anyone: winning five championships in Los Angeles and scoring more points (33,643) than Jordan (32,292).
As Del Harris, Bryant’s first coach with the Lakers, said of Bryant in a 2017 interview with The New York Times: “He only had one interest. His only focus was to be the best that he could be. And in his mind that meant challenging Michael Jordan. People can argue how close he actually came, but there’s no question that he fulfilled pretty much all of his dreams.”
Jordan made no public appearances during the N.B.A.’s recent All-Star festivities in Chicago, despite his long history with the Bulls, but his presence at Monday’s 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.”