Michael Jordan on Kobe Bryant: 'He was like a little brother to me'
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Basketball legend Michael Jordan paid tribute to fellow NBA great Kobe Bryant on Sunday afternoon, hours after reports that the former Los Angeles Laker had died in a helicopter crash in California along with his daughter, Gianna. 

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing,” Jordan began in the statement. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me.”

“We used to talk often and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force,” he continued. “Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply – and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball.”

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Jordan said his wife, model Yvette Prieto, joins him in sending their “deepest condolences” to Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, as well as the “Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.” 

Both Bryant and Jordan have long been regarded by many fans and critics as arguably two of the greatest athletes to ever play in the NBA. 

Though the two came head to head on the court several times after Bryant entered the league in 1996, Bryant said in an interview years back that he looked at Jordan like a “big brother.”

“We hit it off very well. He was really like a big brother, and whether it’s because we see things in a similar way in terms of our competitive spirit or fire or whatever the case may be, there’s an understanding that we have—a connection that we have,” he said in an interview with Bleacher Report in 2014.

“I don’t know if he opened up with me more than he did with other players, I’m not sure. I don’t know if other players had the balls even to ask. But we have a really, really good relationship,” he added.

Later on Sunday, Shaquille O'Neal also mourned the loss of his former teammate, calling him and Gianna his "brother" and "niece" in a series of tweets.

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"There's no words to express the pain I'm going through with this tragedy of [losing] my [niece] Gigi & my brother @kobebryant," O'Neal tweeted. "I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW."

"Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common," he continued. "I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me'Arah."

In his tribute to the late icon, Magic Johnson called Bryant "the greatest Laker of all-time" on Twitter.

"My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone," Johnson said. "It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players."