Episodes 5 and 6 of “The Last Dance” will be bittersweet for much of the basketball world when they premiere on ESPN on Sunday.
It will be the first time in the documentary that we see the late Kobe Bryant talk about Michael Jordan, the player after whom he modeled his game and who served as the archetype for his own Hall of Fame career. Bryant succeeded in emulating Jordan, becoming the player who most closely matched his passion, preparation, talent, drive and will to win.
Early clips from one of the two episodes reveal just how impactful Jordan was to a young Bryant, and how that helped the latter become an all-time NBA great.
“He’s like my big brother,” Bryant says of Jordan in the documentary. “I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one, your fans saying, ‘Hey Kobe, you beat Michael one-on-one.’ I’m like, ‘Yo. What you get from me — is from him.’”
(That’s a sentiment Jordan shared as well; during Bryant’s memorial, he said he felt like he had lost a little brother).
In the context of the documentary, however, an in-his-prime Jordan merely calls Bryant “that little Lakers boy” — an upstart who refused to back down from matching up against the all-time great. Even then, Jordan’s burgeoning respect was apparent for the sport’s next superstar, as evidenced when he told Bryant “I’ll see you down the road” following the 1998 All-Star Game.
The two would meet 11 times from 1996 to 2003 — eight times in the regular season, three times in All-Star games, but never in the playoffs (a shame). With that, Sporting News wanted to run down the timeline of their meetings, highlighting some of the best games and moments, and how they shaped their respective careers:
Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant timeline
Dec. 17, 1996: Bulls 129, Lakers 123
Jordan: 10 of 32 shooting (30 points), 10 of 14 free throw shooting, nine rebounds, three assists
Bryant (reserve): 2 of 5 shooting (five points), 0 of 2 free throw shooting
The first four meetings between Jordan and Bryant were not, shall we say, clashes between titans (Bryant wouldn’t face Jordan as a starter for the first time until the 1998 All-Star game). That said, it’d be impossible to overlook the first meeting between these two, even if Bryant came off the bench. Jordan proved he was still the best player on the planet by putting up 30 points and nine rebounds. Bryant, then 18, put up a modest five points on 2-of-5 shooting.
Feb. 5, 1997: Lakers 106, Bulls 90
Jordan: 10 of 24 shooting (27 points), 5 of 6 free throw shooting, four rebounds, four assists
Bryant (reserve): 2 of 7 shooting (five points), three rebounds
Dec. 17, 1997: Bulls 104, Lakers 83
Jordan: 12 of 22 shooting (36 points), 11 of 12 free throw shooting, five rebounds, four assists
Bryant (reserve): 12 of 20 shooting (33 points), 3 of 5 3-point shooting, 6 of 9 free throw shooting, three rebounds, two assists
This was the first true duel between Jordan and Bryant, one in which they both scored more than 30 points (Jordan had 36 to Bryant's 33). Bryant, then 19, showed no fear, going blow for blow against the best basketball player on the planet — even hitting a fadeaway over him. Speaking of that move: It was in this game that Bryant asked Jordan how he performed a particular post move. Jordan told him to feel the defender with his legs so he'd know which way to spin. Even then, Jordan showed respect to the up-and-coming Bryant, telling reporters after the game, "I think it’s just a matter of time for him. You realize how good he is." Perhaps Jordan was generous with his praise because of his own success in the game — and his team's 21-point victory.
Feb. 1, 1998: Lakers 112, Bulls 87
Jordan: 11 of 26 shooting (31 points), 9 of 11 free throw shooting, five rebounds, two assists
Bryant (reserve): 7 of 16 shooting (20 points), 4 of 7 free throw shooting, four rebounds, one assist
Feb. 8, 1998: East 134, West 114
Jordan: 10 of 18 shooting (23 points), 1 of 1 3-point shooting, six rebounds, eight assists, three steals
Bryant: 7 of 16 shooting (18 points), 2 of 3 3-point shooting, six rebounds, one assist, two steals
A monumental meeting, for multiple reasons. Bryant — playing in his first All-Star game — refused to back down from Jordan, scoring a team-high 18 points and often defending the Bulls great in isolation. Jordan, in what would be his final All-Star game pre-retirement, proved he was still the best in the game with 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds while leading the East to a 134-114 win. It was a defining game for both players — particularly Bryant, as noted by Sporting News’ Dan Bernstein.
Feb. 10, 2002: West 135, East 120
Jordan: 4 of 13 shooting (eight points), four rebounds, three assists, two steals
Bryant: 12 of 25 shooting (31 points), 7 of 7 free throw shooting, five rebounds, five assists, one steal
Feb. 12, 2002: Lakers 103, Wizards 94
Jordan: 8 of 20 shooting (22 points), 6 of 8 free throw shooting, five rebounds, five assists, two steals
Bryant: 9 of 20 shooting (23 points), 5 of 9 free throw shooting, 11 rebounds, 15 assists, one steal, one block
April 2, 2002: Lakers 113, Wizards 93
Jordan (reserve): 1 of 5 shooting (two points), three rebounds, three assists
Bryant: 6 of 13 shooting (14 points), two rebounds, six assists
Nov. 8, 2002: Wizards 100, Lakers 99
Jordan (reserve): 9 of 14 shooting (25 points), three rebounds, three assists, two steals
Bryant: 8 of 21 shooting (27 points), 11 of 11 free throw shooting, six rebounds, four assists
Feb. 9, 2003: West 155, East 145
Jordan: 9 of 27 shooting (20 points), 2 of 2 free throw shooting, five rebounds, two assists, two steals
Bryant: 8 of 17 shooting (22 points), 3 of 5 3-point shooting, 3 of 6 free throw shooting, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals, two blocks
For a time, it looked as if Jordan's final All-Star Game would be his worst; he missed his first seven shots. But, in typical Jordan fashion, he rebounded to keep the game competitive and naturally had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. With 5 seconds remaining in overtime and the game tied at 136, Jordan shouldered Shawn Marion away and hit his trademark fadeaway jumper to give the East the 138-136 lead with three seconds remaining. But Bryant — rocking a pair of Jordans — was fouled in the attempt of a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. He proceeded to hit 2 of 3 free throw attempts to tie the game with a second remaining, eventually leading the West to a 155-145 win. The game regardless showcased their clutch ability and trash-talking prowess.
March 28, 2003: Lakers 108, Wizards 94
Jordan: 10 of 20 shooting (23 points), 3 of 4 free throw shooting, four assists, one steal
Bryant: 15 of 29 shooting (55 points), 9 of 13 3-point shooting, 16 of 18 free throw shooting, five rebounds, three assists, three steals
The final meeting between Jordan and Bryant was a passing of the torch. Bryant exploded for his best performance against the GOAT, going 15 of 29 from the field — including 9 of 13 from 3-point land — for 55 points. For added measure, he went 16 of 18 at the free throw line, adding five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Jordan certainly wasn’t a slouch — shooting 50 percent from the field for 23 points and tallying four assists — but this matchup made it clear: It was Bryant, not Jordan, who was the league’s dominant superstar.
Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant head-to-head stats
The head-to-head stats between Jordan and Bryant are relatively even, though need some context to fully explain what they mean. It's important to note that neither Jordan nor Bryant met while the other was in their prime, though their meeting in the 1998 All-Star Game is certainly worthy of mention.
Jordan got a quick lead on Bryant stats-wise, considering the first four meetings between their teams came with Bryant coming off the bench. Yet by the time Bryant had come into his own in the league, Jordan had undergone his three-year retirement before rejoining with the Wizards. And while he still showed flashes of the greatest basketball player of all time, it was clear he was past his prime.
The only noticeable difference between the two in terms of major stats comes in points: Bryant outscored Jordan 253-222 in their 11 meetings, though, again, it's important to note he was a higher-volume 3-point shooter, attempting 30 more shots than Jordan in their head-to-head meetings:
Field goals/attempts (pct.)
Free throws/attempts (pct.)
Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant all-time record
Less important (though still relevant) in the Jordan vs. Bryant timeline is which player won more. In that sense, Bryant has the clear edge: He went 5-3 against Jordan in the regular season and 2-1 in All-Star games for a combined 7-4 record against Jordan.
Dec. 17, 1996
Bulls 129, Lakers 123
Feb. 5, 1997
Lakers 106, Bulls 90
Dec. 17, 1997
Bulls 104, Lakers 83
Feb. 1, 1998
Lakers 112, Bulls 87
Feb. 8, 1998
East 134, West 114
Feb. 10, 2002
West 135, East 120
Feb. 12, 2002
Lakers 103, Wizards 94
April 2, 2002
Lakers 113, Wizards 93
Nov. 8, 2002
Wizards 100, Lakers 99
Feb. 9, 2003
West 155, East 145
March 28, 2003
Lakers 108, Wizards 94