A nearly 40-year-old Michael Jordan told Kobe Bryant not to take it easy on him during Jordan’s final NBA All-Star Game in 2003. Now nearly 13 years later, Bryant has the same message for his NBA colleagues before his All-Star Game swan song.
"One thing that Michael said was, ‘Just because it’s my last All-Star Game, I don’t want you to come out there going soft on me,' " Bryant recently told Yahoo Sports. " 'I want you to play me how you would normally play me.' I was like, 'Mike, what do you know about me that would lead you to tell me that?' We both got a good laugh out of that.
“The thing I remember most was the competition. Those are the things that I will always cherish. Hopefully, they will come out and compete as always this year. Those are the things I will always carry with me. Just true competition.”
The NBA will name its starters Thursday for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto. Bryant is expected to be the leading vote getter by a landslide thanks to fan voting worldwide that ended Monday night. With that honor the Los Angeles Lakers’ star would earn a starting spot for the Western Conference for the Feb. 14 contest. The All-Star Game’s all-time leading scorer, Bryant is expected to play in his 18th and final All-Star Game in a season he has said will be his last.
Jordan was actually voted to the All-Star team as a reserve by the Eastern Conference coaches in 2003 because East guards Allen Iverson and Vince Carter were voted starters by the fans. But Carter ended up giving his East starting spot to the Hall of Famer who’s often regarded as the greatest NBA player of all time. As for Bryant, the overwhelming response by fans in his final All-Star Game is meaningful to him.
“It’s a great honor. I didn’t expect it all. I’m very thankful for it honestly,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports.
Jordan’s last NBA All-Star Game was memorable as the West won 155-145 in a double-overtime thriller in Atlanta. Jordan, who turned 40 eight days later, scored 20 points to become the game’s all-time leading scorer at the time.
Looking back, Bryant’s fondest memory of Jordan’s last All-Star Game was the lengthy time he spent alone with him before tip-off.
“I remember he and I talking for about 25 minutes,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “He and I were kind of [joking around]. We just talked about the season. Talked about the playoffs. He always gave me great pearls of wisdom. That was the thing that was just special to me, talking before he went out and had all the hoopla and things like that. That was special.
“He loves those challenges, those moments. I’m sure he was very appreciative and very thankful just as I was.”
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