Episode five of ‘The Last Dance’ opens to the Nas classic ‘If I Ruled The World,’ with Lauryn Hill’s dulcet chorus perfectly setting the tone for what’s brewing in the Madison Square Garden dressing rooms ahead of the 1998 NBA All-Stars game.
Stories of a 19-year-old from the LA Lakers begin to filter into the East team’s dressing room.
“That Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one-on-one,” Michael Jordan begins.
“He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it,” a teammate replies.
“I’m gonna make this sh*t happen,” Jordan retorts. “I’m gonna make this a one-on-one game.”
That player was, of course, Kobe Bryant and the man dubbed by many as ‘the next Michael Jordan’ and the heir apparent to his throne.
The late Bryant, who, alongside his daughter Gianna, tragically passed away in January in a helicopter crash, had been interviewed for the documentary before his untimely passing and provides fascinating insight into the rivalry he shared with Jordan and how ‘His Airness’ supported him as he was rising to the top.
One of the most incredible shots of the fifth episode, thanks to ESPN’s unprecedented access of Jordan’s 1997/98 season for the doc, is of the grizzled veteran and the young hot-shot huddled next to one another and, despite playing for opposite teams, in deep conversation.
As Bryant explains, Jordan was providing a lot of guidance for him at the time in spite of their bubbling rivalry. During the game, Bryant asks Jordan about shooting his turnaround shot and Jordan, in turn, gave him a great, detailed answer.
“On top of that he said ‘If you ever need anything, give me a call.’ He was like my big brother,” says Bryant.
On their rivalry, Bryant doesn’t seem interested in who’d emerge triumphant and goes on to acknowledge that without Jordan, there’d be no Bryant as we now know him.
“I truly hate having discussion about who would win one-on-one,”
“And fans saying ‘Kobe, you’d beat Michael one-on-one’ And I feel like, ‘Yo! What you get from me is from him. I don’t get five championships here without him. ‘Cause he guided me so much and he gave me so much great advice.’”
The 1998 All-Stars Game finishes with a victory for Jordan’s East and after, he and Bryant briefly embrace each other before offering up “I’ll see you down the road.”
He certainly wasn’t wrong - Bryant would win five NBA championships, become an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, 2008’s NBA Most Valuable Player and a two-time NBA Finals MVP winner before retiring from the court in 2016.
There’s plenty for fans of the ‘the Black Mamba’ to unpackage and the opening of episode five acts as a fitting tribute to one of the best to ever do it.