As the world mourns the loss of Michael Jackson, giants from the entertainment and athletic realm have publicly stated their sadness and deep appreciation for the pop culture icon and music legend.
Kobe Bryant, four-time NBA champion and All-Star guard of the Los Angeles Lakers, recently spoke to MTV and CNN about the impact Jackson had on his life.
Bryant revealed during a Michael Jackson video retrospective that he has had several conversations with the King of Pop prior to his unexpected death on June 25.
“I think it’s probably deeper than people would expect, actually,” Bryant said. “Being out here in L.A., I had numerous conversations, just over the phone and also at his house, just talking about work ethic and paying attention to details. Not skipping steps.”
Bryant and Jackson have a lot more in common than people realize.
Aside from being hailed as the best in their chosen profession, Bryant and Jackson are both ultra-competitive and always in constant pursuit of perfection. They also walked the same path in terms of being misunderstood, becoming a polarizing figure to fans and the mainstream media.
“He was extremely inspirational for me because he helped me understand that it’s OK to be different,” Bryant explained.
“And when I say different, I mean different in the sense of being obsessed with your craft; paying attention to detail, and working your tail off and being consumed by what you do. He helped mentor me in that department. I think we lost an absolutely brilliant, brilliant mind and just a genuine nice person.”
Bryant mentioned that one of the books Jackson gave him was “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” a story of a seagull who develops an affinity for self-perfection. Because of his unwillingness to conform, spending too much time perfecting his flying form instead of concentrating on getting food, the seagull is ostracized by the rest of the flock. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads an idyllic life.
On many levels, Bryant and Jackson are two individuals who distanced themselves from conformity. They were embroiled in squabbles with the flock, at least during Bryant’s early years with the Lakers, and decided to do things on their own.
Whether it was because of desperation or his thirst for perfection, Bryant’s solo flights were executed to influence the outcome of basketball games. Jackson’s flight was triggered mainly to launch his burgeoning solo career and, in some ways, preserve his personal sanity.
Growing up in Gary, Ind., Jackson was a basketball fan and has included the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in his music videos.
He had a basketball hoop at Neverland Ranch, and when you watch him in that “Jam” video with Jordan, Jackson had decent handles and his jump shot was not too shabby. On defense, he definitely needed to squat down and not go for the pump fake so much. But, overall, Jackson was a better basketball player than Jordan was as a dancer.
Jackson is one of the few people in the world that Bryant could relate to. Kobe has been in the spotlight since he turned pro in 1996 at 18 years of age, and has used the NBA as his personal playground.
Because of the heavy demand in his sport, Bryant was never allowed to be a kid and had to grow up quickly. Jackson, unfortunately, suffered the same fate in a much greater scale.
“I don’t think people understand the amount of effort and time that he put into his work to make millions and millions to make people extremely happy across the world,” Bryant said of Jackson, who not only broke standards with his record-setting albums, but also pioneered the production of music videos. MTV, BET, and VH1 owe their livelihood to Jackson.
Jackson’s legacy has stretched into this decade, influencing today’s artists such as Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, and Usher.
Bryant may not have the same influence in the NBA, but he is considered by his peers as the best clutch player today. His competition—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul—are all chasing his four championship rings.
“Beyond the genius of what he is, he’s just a genuinely, genuinely nice person. He got me hooked on movies that I would normally never watch. Fred Astaire movies. All the old classics,” Bryant added. “I would never, never watch those.”
“I remember my fianceé and I telling him we were getting married, and him just being really excited, and actually just offering up the ranch to have our wedding there, because privacy was going to be an issue,” Bryant continued.
“We wanted to get married in a church, so that’s what we wound up doing. But he made the offer. He’s just a genuinely nice person, who is exceptionally bright, exceptionally bright, and driven, and talented. You mix those things together, man, you have Michael Jackson.”