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Eric Freeman

Michael Jackson made the Lakers what they are today

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Earlier Tuesday, KD hipped you all to Adrian Wojnarowski's must-read sitdown with Kobe Bryant over on the Yahoo! Sports mothership. I echo that advice: It's great and you'll learn a lot.

But Mr. Dwyer neglected to mention one of the most bizarre aspects of Woj's feature. It turns out that Kobe Bryant(notes) was friendly with the King of Pop:

Out of nowhere one afternoon, Michael Jackson made a call to the irrepressible and isolated Kobe Bryant, and so much changed for him. From a distance, the King of Pop could sense so much of his own obsessive genius within the prodigy. Bryant was the 18-year-old wonder for the Los Angeles Lakers, and no one knew what to make of a restlessness borne of a desperate desire for greatness.

"He noticed I was getting a lot of [expletive] for being different," Bryant said.

They would talk for hours and hours, visiting at Neverland Ranch, and Bryant has long been fortified by the lessons Jackson instilled about the burden of honoring true talent, about the ways to open your mind to be smarter, sharper and insatiable in the chase.

"It sounds weird, I guess, but it's true: I was really mentored by the preparation of Michael Jackson," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports.

Oh, that is perfectly normal. They were just two grown men hanging out at the estate of the most famous pop star in the world, a veritable altar to lost childhood complete with chimps, giraffes, and a functional train. What better place to learn about what it takes to be a champion.

Let's not kid ourselves: This is really weird. You don't hear about Ted Nugent mentoring the Bad Boys Pistons, Hall and Oates chatting with Moses Malone about perfection, or The J. Geils Band teaching Larry Bird how to become the best in your own field. Nevertheless, MJ took the time out of his busy schedule of buying Faberge eggs to talk to the Lakers' star.

But here's the really crazy thing: This wasn't the first time Jackson mentored a Lakers legend. As noted in "The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History" (full disclosure: I am one of its authors, and the book is also available now!), Magic Johnson was great friends with the King of Pop and even joined the Jackson 5 on multiple tours. For whatever reasons, Earvin and Michael understood each other and helped push each other to be the best they could be.

It's enough to make you wonder where the Lakers would be today without the influence of Michael Jackson. Maybe they'd be less "dangerous," nowhere close to "invincible." I don't mean to suggest they'd have been "bad," but I think we'd have seen a few more "thrillers" in the finals instead of the easy wins we've grown accustomed to. Surely that suggestion isn't "off the wall," so don't tell me to "beat it." Try to "remember the time" when the Lakers beat the Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 conference finals. That team lived by the motto "don't stop 'til you get enough." And then they made "HIStory."

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