ESPN’s 10-part documentary TV series “The Last Dance” chronicles the Chicago Bulls’ final season of their second three-peat NBA Championships with GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Coach Phil Jackson. The amazing storytelling provides thoughtful insight into the Chicago Bulls NBA dynasty and its ultimate demise.
In “The Last Dance” Episode 5, Michael Jordan played in his last NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, New York City. He played against rising star 19-year-old Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. That sourced their lifelong friendship and mentorship until Kobe tragically passed away in 2020 in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
As a kid, Kobe grew up idolizing Michael. As the NBA All-Star, he asked Michael how to shoot the turnaround jump shot. Michael took the time to give Kobe his “very detailed answer”. Even back then, Kobe was the basketball savant. He so appreciated Michael’s answer and his time.
After the All-Star game, Michael told Kobe, “If you ever need anything, give me a call.” Kobe said, “He’s my Big Brother.” At Kobe’s Memorial Services, Michael said, “Kobe was a dear friend… He’s like a ‘little bother’.”
Kobe hated all the hypothetical ‘one-on-one’ discussions of himself versus Michael: “Who would have won?” He said:
Yo, what you get from me is from him (Michael Jordan). I don’t get no 5 Championships without him, because he guided me so much. He (Michael) gave me so much great advice.
Kobe’s Sensei was Michael Jordan. They had nothing but mad love and respect for each other. RIP Kobe.
My Sensei was the late Mizukami Sensei. When I passed my Shodan Test for 1st-degree black belt, I said to Sensei, “Thank you.” Humbly Sensei said, “I didn’t do anything. You did it.” Well, he was maybe half right. Maybe. Now, I’m Yondan (4th-degree black belt). Yeah, I did that, too.
Yet, all my accomplishments in Aikido and becoming a good man, were only possible, because Mizukami Sensei was my Sensei. I don’t get no Yondan without him.
Years ago, Sensei told me, “All martial arts are good.” That was in the context of instilling discipline and rigorously developing oneself. That’s true. The unsaid part: You have to find your right Sensei. That was Mizukami Sensei for me. Amen.
Throughout my childhood, I grew up in fear of my Dad. I got it in my head, “I’m not good enough.” That was my Dad’s voice, not mine. Fortunately, I met Sensei when I did. He taught me Aikido. More profoundly, he granted me space to just be me, to freely invent my next greater-than version. I can never do justice in describing that sense of sheer joy and freedom. Like what Michael had done for Kobe.
Michael graciously allowed Kobe to make him his “Big Brother”. Sensei graciously allowed me to make him my “father”: The father I needed to become a good man. I’m always grateful for Sensei having been in my life. I’m so grateful that the universe brought us together somehow. After his passing, I still have nothing but mad love and respect for Sensei. I’m part of his enduring legacy.
When Sensei passed away, I called up my Mom, who was still alive at the time in her Seniors Home. I said, “Mom, Sensei passed away.” I cried.
Mom had met Sensei several times before. She said, “I’m so sorry. I know what Sensei meant to you.” I profoundly got Mom’s generosity.
Years ago, Mom had already given me permission to make Sensei my ‘Father’. She got it. She got my childhood. Mom got me. Mom was my Sensei, too. She taught me that a good man has gentleness and compassion. Nothing but mad love and respect for Mom. RIP Mom.
In our very human design, we continually invent our greater-than versions of ourselves. We don’t invent that version in isolation, all alone. Rather, we evolve our greater-than versions with our communities, and grind it out.
In your communities, discover your Sensei, the one who sees your greater version within you that you don’t always see or hear. He or she guides and inspires us to become the greatest that we can be. That’s Sensei’s mad love and respect. We’re forever grateful to Sensei, out of our mad love and respect. Amen.
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