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Kobe Bryant thanked Michael Jackson for teaching him how to be successful: 'He called me out of the blue'

Bryant revealed on an episode of HBO's Real Sports in 2016 how the King of Pop called him to advice
UPDATED JAN 29, 2020
Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant (Getty Images)
Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant (Getty Images)

It is well known that Michael Jordan played a significant role in basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s life, but few know of the impact the other MJ -- Michael Jackson -- had on him.

In 2016, Bryant revealed on an episode of HBO's 'Real Sports' how the King of Pop called him out of the blue back in 1998. Bryant was just 18 at the time.

“I was starting to get a lot of flak for being an introvert and being so serious all the time about the game. And he wanted to call and give me encouragement and said, ‘don’t change for them. You have to stay focused. If you wanna be one of the all-time greats you have to study the all-time greats. You have to be obsessive about what you do and how you do it,'" the NBA superstar had recalled

Kobe Bryant poses with his family at halftime after both his #8 and #24 Los Angeles Lakers jerseys are retired at Staples Center on December 18, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Bryant was lifting weights at Gold's Gym in Venice, California during the summer following his rookie season, when his cellphone rang mid-squat.

"Hi, it's Michael," said the voice on the line.

"Michael who?"

"Michael Jackson."

The future NBA hall-of-famer couldn't believe his ears, according to a story retold by ESPN's Jackie MacMullan. It sounded nothing like the MJ he knew onstage -- the voice was lower, more subdued, and bereft of the high-pitched whisper Jackson famously used during his performances.

"He's calling me out of the f------ blue," he remembered. "I don't think it's a real phone call."

Bryant soon realized that Jackson had been observing his progress from afar and had called to offer advice.

"Keep doing what you're doing," Jackson urged him. "Don't come back to the pack and be normal for the sake of blending in with others. Don't dumb it down."

The telephonic exchange barely lasted fifteen minutes, but it was enough to spark an unusual friendship between the two phenoms.

Jackson, a superfan of the LA Lakers, proceeded to rattle off a series of factoids about the team, thereby prompting Bryant -- who was a fan of Michael's music -- to ask a few questions of his own.

"Who were your early influences? How did you make 'Thriller'? What prompted you to buy the catalog of the Beatles' music?" Kobe wanted to know everything about MJ. 

The King of Pop obliged, inviting Bryant to join him at the Neverland Ranch so they could have a candid conversation about their respective crafts. 

The 18-year-old pounced at the chance and drove from the Pacific Palisades to Jackson's Los Olivos residence—a sprawling 2,700-acre estate filled with childlike amusements.

"He told me, 'This is what you love. This is your obsession,'" Bryant said, recalling how they were sharing a meal of marinated chicken and organic vegetables at the time. "He said, 'I know what it's like to be different. Embrace it.'"

An aerial view of the Neverland Valley Ranch of singer Michael Jackson June 25, 2001, in Santa Ynez, CA. (Getty Images)

Following dinner at the stunning residence, Michael presented Kobe with a copy of 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' -- a novella about a bird who was outcast for being unwilling to conform.

The duo then drove half a mile more to Jackson's private 5,500-square-foot theater, where the King of Pop told Bryant about American greats such as Grace Kelly, Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. Bryant hadn't a clue about any of them -- but Jackson explained how they were the inspiration behind his 1988 'Smooth Criminal' music video. He even took him through the process of recording his best-selling solo single 'Billie Jean'.

"Your curiosity is your greatest gift," Jackson told Kobe. "Use it to expand your scope. Ordinary people won't understand your insatiable thirst for excellence. They won't bother to keep striving because it's too onerous, too difficult."

"You've got to study all the greats," Jackson continued. "You've got to learn what made them successful and what made them unsuccessful."

Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Barbara County courthouse on April 29, 2005, in Santa Maria, California. (Getty Images)

After a surreal evening, Bryant drove home through Santa Barbara County with a car full of presents Jackson had gifted him. Among them were copies of classic movies like 'An American in Paris', 'Singing in the Rain' and 'Farewell My Concubine'. The 'Bad' hitmaker also had an additional reading assignment for the talented shooting guard -- a copy of Napoleon Hill's 'Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude'.

Once back at his Pacific Palisades residence, Bryant spent much of the night scouring through MJ's gifts. The treasure trove of old movies, pop psychology, and self-help books was an invitation by the King of Pop to be like him, and would go on to shape one of the greatest careers in NBA history.