A little over a week before he is due to induct Kobe Bryant into the basketball Hall of Fame, NBA legend Michael Jordan has opened up about his final interaction with the Lakers icon.
Bryant, his teenage daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in Los Angeles in January last year.
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The crash came just weeks after Bryant was nominated as a first-ballot member of the Hall of Fame, shocking sports fans across the world and leaving the NBA community shattered.
Jordan, a mentor of Bryant's when he first entered the league after he was drafted 13th overall by the Lakers in 1996, delivered a spine-tingling and emotional speech at Bryant's funeral last year.
Ahead of the Hall of Fame ceremony, which will also see modern legends Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett inducted, Jordan spoke with veteran basketball writer Jackie MacMullan about his final exchange with Bryant.
A text message exchange that began with Bryant thanking Jordan for sending him a bottle of his own brand of tequila quickly turned to basketball, with Jordan amused by Bryant's still burning competitive fire as coach of Gianna's high school team.
“He was really into coaching Gigi so I hit him up about that,” Jordan told the ESPN reporter.
“Happy holidays and hope to catch up soon. Coach Kobe??!”
“I added that little crying/laughing emoji."
“Ah, back at you, man,” Kobe wrote “Hey, coach, I’m sitting on the bench right now, and we’re blowing this team out. 45-8.”
For Jordan, it was the epitome of Bryant's attitude to the game.
"I just love that text," he says, "because it shows Kobe's competitive nature."
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Jordan said he has simply found himself unable to delete his final messages with Bryant, or even the former Laker's number, from his phone.
After decades of discussions about everything in basketball, from the minutia of shooting release points and footwork to managing the stresses of being a basketball icon, Jordan had helped Bryant from his early days in the league.
To farewell their relationship, which had grown from mentoring a competitive successor to one of just two basketball die-hards enjoying each other's company, is simply too much for the Chicago Bulls great.
After speaking at Bryant's funeral, Jordan said it would be the ultimate honour to give the speech at Bryant's Hall of Fame induction.
"It's going to be a great honour, to be honest. It's like standing up for a family member," Jordan said.
"He paid me the highest respect by trying to emulate certain things I did.
"And I can only repay that by showing my support and admiration for a guy who I felt was one of the greatest to ever play the game."
Bryant's Hall of Fame induction ceremony is set to go ahead on May 14, after last year's ceremony was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The likes of Bryant, Duncan and Garnett were initially announced as members in April last year.
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