The Legend of Black Mamba, MJ Edition

It’s not about the highlights, it’s not about the milestones…the true beauty is in the journey, Kobe Bryant said after passing the great Michael Jordan.

Greatness involves adopting a different perspective. Greatness means to see the world differently…not looking for shortcuts, not looking for quick fixes, no cheats, no scams. Greatness is all about managing your journey, dividing it into steps, enjoying every one of them but also never lose sight of your ultimate goal: to be the best you can possibly be.

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about soccer or basketball, sports or engineering, the formula is the same.

In a famous Adidas ad, Leo Messi talked about his secret that helped him reach the top of the soccer world:

I start early and stay late, day after day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success (referring to his league debut at FC Barcelona on October 16, 2004).

Now imagine a similar ad about Kobe Bryant. It took him 1,269 professional games, 46,422 minutes, 24,908 field-goals attempted, 13,647 misses, 11,261 field-goals made, 9,692 free-throws attempted, 8,113 made and 32,310 points scored to pass his idol Michael Jordan in the all-time scoring list. And what we can see are just two out-of-the-context free-throws made in Minneapolis, on a December night of 2014…only that. Only thousands of words, dozens of statistics and a few highlights. However Kobe knows that the journey itself is the most important. Bryant said after yesterday’s game, according to ESPN:

It’s really not a big deal to say I passed him for something like that. It’s a great accomplishment, but the true beauty is in the journey.

He always knew.

The Journey

As a kid, the Mamba wasn’t interested in seeing highlights with MJ…he was interested in Jordan’s becoming. “I think a lot of people saw the highlights of him, the dunks and fancy layups. But as a kid, I saw more than that. I saw how he got there. I saw footwork. I saw spacing. I saw how to use screens. That’s what I saw. That’s what’s different from a lot of kids who came up during my era. They saw highlights, but I saw how he got to those highlights,” the Laker told

He used that perspective throughout his career, patiently laying one building block at a time, waiting for any (NOT the perfect) opportunity to emerge:

I appreciate the journey. That’s the beauty of it, the building. My rookie year from not playing much to coming off the bench to earning to my starting position – all of that stuff I had to earn, man. It wasn’t given to me. I appreciate that.

Indeed, from the perspective, Bryant was unique with a totally different career path than MJ. Jordan was an instant standout in Chicago playing 38 minutes per game in his rookie season. Bryant played 15.5 minutes per game in the 1996 – 1997 season after choosing to skip college. He didn’t play much in this second NBA year and emerged as a true superstar during the championship years in early 2000s. Michael had to wait seven years to win a ring. He retired two times and played injury-free for most of his professional career. Kobe had different setbacks from injuries to questionable talent surrounding him.

Nevertheless, amidst all these different paths, there is one constant that defines both Jordan and Kobe: their drive.

MJ vs Kobe, Kobe vs MJ

In his biography, MJ acknowledges Mamba as being the only basketball player to deserve the comparison with him.

Kobe’s the only one to have done the work.

And not only that, he was one of the few players who was eager to take on the challenge and compete with Michael from Day One.

“When I first came into the league, Michael was terrifying to everybody. Everybody was really afraid of the guy. Like really, deathly afraid of him. I never really understood that, and I was the one that was willing to challenge and learn from him and wasn’t afraid to call him and ask him questions. He was really open and spoke to me a lot and helped me a lot,” the Black Mamba recalls.

Even Jordan noticed his drive. It was during the 1998 NBA All-Star Game that Kobe made his move on MJ. Despite having a touch of the flu, Jordan went on and scored the first basket, then scored another two fall-away jumpers with the 19-year-old kid from L.A. closely guarding him. “He hit those two turnarounds. And I was like, ‘Cool, let’s get it on,’” the young guard said back then.

The Bull responded: “He came at me pretty early. I would if I was him. If I see someone that’s maybe sick or whatever, you’ve got to attack him. He attacked. You know, I liked his attitude.”

Kobe finished that game with 18 points and 6 rebounds while MJ was named the MVP with 23 points, 6 boards and 8 assists.

16 years later, the great MJ now owner of the Charlotte Hornets reacted yet again after his student topped him in the all-time scoring list. He told the Associated Press:

I congratulate Kobe on reaching this milestone. He’s obviously a great player, with a strong worth ethic and has an equally strong passion for the game of basketball. I’ve enjoyed watching his game evolve over the years, and I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes next.

So do we all as the legend is far from over; the Black Mamba has at least two years left and who knows two NBA greats to pass – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6,077 points away) and Karl Malone (4,618 points away) – and one or two more rings to rule them all. Because in Kobe’s world, this is what all the journey is about: WINNING. All the other accolades are just mere bonuses.

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