Kobe Bryant 'Believed He Was Better Than Michael Jordan,' Says Tracy McGrady

As The Last Dance has made abundantly clear of the last five weeks, Michael Jordan is not a man afraid to hold a grudge.

From former adversaries and teammates to team executives, few of those who featured in ESPN's 10-part documentary chronicling Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls escaped MJ's wrath.

The late Kobe Bryant, to whose memory Episode 5 of The Last Dance was posthumously dedicated, was a notable exception. Footage of the 1998 All-Star Game, Bryant's first appearance in the NBA's annual extravaganza, showed Jordan being very impressed by the Los Angeles Lakers star's confident attitude.

Such was Bryant's belief in his own abilities that Tracy McGrady felt Bryant thought he was better than Jordan himself.

"To be around Kobe at 19 years old, you would've thought Kobe had been here before and been around the greats of the game," the seven-time All-Star said during an appearance on Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson's All The Smoke Podcast on Thursday.

"His mindset was so different than I've ever experienced and ever seen in anybody at 19 years old. ... This man really, truly thought he was better than Michael Jordan."

McGrady's comments are revealing as in The Last Dance Bryant firmly pushed back on the suggestion of a rivalry between him and Jordan.

"I feel like, yo, what you get from me is from him. I won't get five championships here without him because he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice," he said in Episode 5.

"I truly hate having discussions about who would win one on one. 'Hey Kobe, you beat Michael one on one.'"

Throughout his 20-year career, Bryant, whose life was tragically cut short when he died in a helicopter crash just outside Los Angeles on January 26, elicited comparisons with Jordan.

The most striking similarity between the two is undoubtedly the ferocious determination and will to win they shared.

By the time Bryant made his professional debut in the 1996-97 season, Jordan had already four NBA titles to his name and would add a further two before retiring for a second time at the end of the 1998 season.

Bryant picked up Jordan's mantle in more ways than one. On the court, he became the closest thing to MJ the NBA had ever seen, both in terms of his style of play and his drive to win.

Like Jordan, Bryant flourished under Phil Jackson's tutelage. The "Zen Master" had led the Bulls to six titles but, like Jordan, left Chicago in 1998, before taking charge of the Lakers in 2000.

Spearheaded by Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, Jackson's Lakers won three straight titles between 2000 and 2002, before Bryant added two more titles in 2009 and 2010 during Jackson's second stint in Los Angeles.

While The Last Dance has at times painted Jordan as a ruthless winner all too happy with belittle teammates and pick fights with opponents to motivate himself, Bryant revealed Jordan was happy to provide guidance to younger players.

"I had a question about shooting this turnaround shot, so I asked him about it," he said. "He gave me a great detailed answer. But, on top of that, he said: 'If you ever need anything, give me a call.' He's like my big brother."

Jordan touched on the special relationship he shared with Bryant when he spoke at the Lakers' start memorial service in February when, fighting back the tears, he described the five-time NBA champion as his "little brother."

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, NBA
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant(L) and Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan talk during a free-throw attempt during the fourth quarter of a game at the United Center in Chicago on December 17, 1997. Vincent Laforet/AFP/Getty