In public, Michael Jordan is one of the most iconic human beings walking around on the face of the earth, his presence enough to draw crowd after crowd of onlookers wherever he steps foot.

But despite his astronomical fame, his personal life has remained relatively mysterious and mostly private over the years since he retired back in 2003.

Unbeknownst to most NBA fans, Jordan was actually quite close with perhaps his closest doppelganger in league history, The Black Mamba aka Kobe Bryant.

Bryant seemingly emulated many of Jordan’s mannerisms and moves but had a style all his own; much more free-flowing and high-rolling compared with Jordan’s calm and collected dominance.

The end result: five championships to Jordan’s six, and a place alongside him in Hall-of-Fame as one of the most celebrated champions of all-time.

Jordan said Bryant would constantly pick his brain on the intricacies of the sport, dialing him up time after time in order to soak up as much knowledge as he can.

“He used to call me, text me, 11:30, 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning, talking about post-up moves, footwork, and sometimes the training,” Jordan said. “At first, it was an aggravation. But then it turned into a certain passion.”

Jordan began to enjoy the talks, and forged a close friendship with his younger protégé.

“As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be,” Jordan said in a speech at a memorial tribute earlier this morning at the Staples Center to Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (aka Gigi) who both passed away in a helicopter crash on January 26 in Calabasas, California.

While Jordan’s friendship with Bryant was mostly kept hidden from the public spotlight, the extent of it is just now beginning to be revealed.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said at the event. “And as I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died or else you wouldn’t be here.”

Jordan later burst into tears while joking that he would become “another crying meme for the next three years.”

Vannessa Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were also among those who spoke.

The 10-minute speech from “His Airness” can be seen below.

Thumbnail photo via Jose Marcio Sanchez/AP