Kobe Bryant has become the spitting image of Michael Jordan in the post-Jordanian era, and that’s fitting because of the big brother-little brother mentorship between MJ and the Black Mamba. But while Bryant modeled his game on Mike, he also drew inspiration from Los Angeles Lakers legend Elgin Baylor.
Although sometimes overlooked in the annals of NBA history, Baylor – perhaps more than any other player – revolutionized the game with his athleticism and flair. His influence on wingers spans decades, with Bryant being among those who borrowed from Elgin’s model.
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan shared many similarities
From progression on the pitch to intangibles and ultra-competitive mindset, no player quite looked like Michael Jordan quite like Kobe Bryant. No one has captured the essence of MJ since Kobe retired in 2016 either.
Jordan entered the NBA as a whirling dervish, immediately asserting his exceptional athleticism en route to becoming one of the league’s elite scorers. Likewise, “Frobe” primarily thrived on his supreme athletic talent early in his career.
But both men have changed over time. His Airness has developed one of the deadliest post-up games and fadeaway jumpers. Bryant went just as deadly with the fade-and-post footwork, with a veteran GM imparting that wisdom to a teenage Kobe in one of the NBA’s most iconic images.
The similarities extend to work ethic and will to win. Jordan and Bryant were two of the most competitive individuals to ever grace the hardwood. As a result, they are two of the most definitive winners in NBA history.
However, Kobe absorbed information and artistry from more than one source. He once admitted to dusting off the black-and-white tapes to study another Lakers legend.
Bryant admitted he stole ‘so many’ moves from Elgin Baylor
Who knows why it took the Lakers organization so long to donate a statue to Elgin Baylor.
The 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA player was one of the Minneapolis-LA franchise’s first true stars. Yet he only received the honor of a statue in 2018, a year after Shaquille O’Neal had his image erected by the Lakers.
Baylor deserved all the recognition as a truly transcendent talent. A phrase from Kobe Bryant says as much.
Bryant made some remarks at the unveiling of the Baylor statue outside the Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena) in 2018. He gave the Hall of Fame’s ultimate eulogy (h/t Athleticism) as one of the most defining figures in the evolution of sports, including Bryant’s game.
“I stole so many of your moves, it’s not even funny.”
–Kobe Bryant at Elgin Baylor in 2018
Baylor changed the game in the air. He had an innate sense of the basket and became one of the first to master the reverse layup. It’s no coincidence that Bryant often backhanded and spun around the hoop.
Along with remarks about Baylor’s style, Bryant’s lyrics implicitly inform young fans of Baylor’s place in NBA history.
Baylor had a huge influence on and off the pitch
Kobe Bryant and countless peers could thank Elgin Baylor for his contributions off the floor, in addition to his dominance on the hardwood.
Baylor became the first player to boycott an NBA game in 1959 after Black Lakers players were denied service at several Cincinnati hotels. He was instrumental in forming a union, now known as the NBPA. The 1958-59 Rookie of the Year was just as prolific every time he put on the sneakers. Baylor ranks third all-time in scoring average (27.4) and ranks 10th in rebounding average (13.5).
Despite his unprecedented dominance as a somewhat undersized “big” during this era, he had the unfortunate distinction of playing in the same era as Bill Russell and the dominating Boston Celtics, as well as Wilt Chamberlain. As a result, Baylor never won an NBA championship, despite appearing in the Finals eight times. He never achieved the same level of fame as Chamberlain either.
That said, Baylor’s influence on the sport and individuals such as Bryant is more than evident. Kobe himself testified to this fact.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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