All-time basketball great Michael Jordan broke down in tears as soon as he took the Staples Center podium Monday, paying tribute to his "little brother" Kobe Bryant.
Few players have so much in common as M.J. and Mamba, both widely considered the greatest players of their eras — Jordan in the 1990s and Bryant in the 2000s.
Bryant is fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list with 33,643 points and Jordan is fifth at 32,292.
The Lakers great won five NBA championship rings in his storied career and Jordan scored six. Between the spring of 1991 and mid-June 2010, more than half of all NBA titles were won by their teams, the Chicago Bulls or the Los Angeles Lakers.
"When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died," Jordan told the packed and hushed audience.
"As I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died or else you wouldn't be here. Those are the memories that we have to live with and learn from."
Jordan joked about the constant, almost annoying, calls and texts he got from Bryant asking him almost every basketball question possible.
"I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, little brother," Jordan said, just before leaving the podium and wiping his tears.
Bryant's Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal also paid tribute, taking a more lighthearted approach, cracking jokes about his own poor free-throw shooting and Kobe's occasional habit of not passing the ball.
"I said, 'Kobe, there's no 'I' in team.' Kobe said, 'I know, but here's an M, E in that motherf-----,'" O'Neal said, bringing the house down in laughter.
At that point, O'Neal said his teammates realized there was no getting the ball away from Bryant.
"So I went back and told Rick and Big Shot Bob and they said, 'Just get the rebound he’s not passing,’” O'Neal said, referencing early 2000s Lakers teammates Rick Fox and Robert Horry.
O'Neal and Bryant both joined the Lakers in 1996, the former already an established superstar and the latter an 18-year-old rookie.
They became one of their sport’s most dynamic duos, leading Los Angeles to three consecutive world titles between 2000 and 2002.
But their eight-year pairing was a rocky one, with both stars wanting both the ball and maximum credit for the Lakers’ successes.
Their L.A. partnership broke up but the two eventually made up and were on good terms by the time of Bryant’s death.
O'Neal didn't shy away from that narrative Monday. He called their relationship a complex one that he compared to another dynamic duo that also ended in creative divorce, John Lennon and Paul McCartney,
"But for now, I take comfort in the fact that as we speak, Kobe and Gigi are holding hands, walking to the nearest basketball court," O'Neal said. "Kobe, you're heaven's MVP. I love you, my man. Till we meet again. Rest in peace, Kobe."