The man became Kobe Bryant’s idol as he developed his game and set a measuring stick on his NBA legacy. But Michael Jordan also became one of the first people Bryant informed last summer that he planned to retire following the 2015-16 season.
“The important thing from him was just enjoy it,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at Staples Center. “No matter what, just enjoy it. Dob’t let anybody take that away from you. No matter what happens, good or bad. Enjoy it.”
The man became Bryant’s coach, teacher and mentor even as he initially became frustrated with his motivational tactics and basketball philosophies. But New York Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson became a key figure in assuaging Bryant’s frustration amid a trying season.
“He said to break the season up into sections,” said Bryant, who has averaged 15.5 points on a career-low 30.5 percent shooting through the Lakers’ last-place start in the Western Conference (2-14). “Take it one chunk at a time. Just try to get through it.”
Jordan and Jackson represent one of several mentors that provided Bryant perspective as he mulled retirement. Ever since having season-ending surgery last January on his right shoulder, Bryant had said he leaned toward retiring once he completed the final year of his contract that will pay him $25 million. But Bryant did not fully commit in case he wanted to chase his mind before the season ended.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to actually be able to pick up the phone and call a lot of my muses and speak to them and kind of get their perspective on what they went through,” Bryant said. “But ultimately, it’s a decision that I had to make. What do I feel? Do I want to play again or don’t I? It’s a very simple question, but it’s a hard question when you look in the mirror to ask yourself. The reality is, no, I don’t, so why belabor it?”
Bryant had stayed in “frequent contact” with Jordan, understandably so. Lakers coach Byron Scott considered Bryant “right there with MJ” in the NBA’s all-time shooting guards. Jordan led Bryant in NBA titles (6-5), though Bryant surpassed Jordan last season for third place on the league’s all-time scoring list. Soon enough, Bryant broke the news to the man that became linked with him throughout his 20-year NBA career.
“This is it,” Bryant recalled telling Jordan. “We had some laughs and joked about it.”
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