Even a player as great as Kobe Bryant had some learning to do when he first entered the league.
The Los Angeles Lakers veteran spoke with ESPN’s Baxter Holmes on Sunday and discussed the first time he went one-on-one with Michael Jordan. Even though he knew what was coming, he still couldn’t stop the prolific Chicago Bull:
Bryant, recalling his rookie season, said he was "getting schooled for the baseline dunk the first time I matched up with" Jordan at the United Center on Dec. 17, 1996.
"That was like the coolest thing, because I had seen that spin move so many times. I knew he was going to do it. But the timing on TV and in person are two completely different things. So he just spun right before I thought he was going to spin. I was like, ‘Man, that was pretty cool.’"
That year, Jordan was named the NBA Finals MVP as the Bulls captured their fifth title since the 90-91 season. MJ was coming off an NBA MVP season, and he’d win his fifth the following year. So yeah, it wasn’t just Kobe who was having trouble stopping him.
And the spin move wasn’t the only thing that awed Kobe when he visited the Windy City. Again, per ESPN:
"I think the biggest learning experience, though, was the first time we came out here," Bryant said, "and I think we had a -point lead and then Scottie [Pippen] and Michael just said, ‘That’s enough.’
"I remember sitting there on the bench like, ‘Man, they’re covering so much ground. I don’t even understand how this is possible. How Pippen can trap in the backcourt and then all of the sudden he’s at half court and then all of the sudden he’s getting a rebound at the rim. How is this physically possible?’ That was probably the biggest lesson I learned."
In the coming years, Kobe became that player who could take over a game — scoring 81 vs. the Toronto Raptors in ’06, winning five championship rings, passing Jordan for third on the all-time NBA scoring list, etc. But first he had to watch in amazement as another all-time great – and arguably the greatest to ever play — did it at his expense.