In this day and age of Kobe Bryant as a well-respected, expletive-spewing, torch-passing elder statesman of the NBA, it’s easy to forget that he was a total punk when he came in to the NBA. Well, maybe not easy to forget, but that Kobe persona has been kind of lost in the ether with all the championships, lawsuits and critical adoration that has followed the Lakers star since he entered the league. Way back when, he was just a little snot who acted like he was just barely out of high school, if you can imagine that.

That’s why it’s good to remember, sometimes, just how far Kobe Bryant has come during his 14-year career. This story from Phil Jackson certainly helps. From the OC Register:

Jackson told the story of arranging a first meaningful meeting between Bryant and Michael Jordan in the 2000-01 season, which was filled with Kobe-driven friction after the first championship the previous season. Jackson’s goal was for the learned Jordan to get the eager Bryant “to understand he didn’t have to stray outside the offense” and the Zen idea to “wait till the game presents itself.”

Jackson said Bryant’s first comment to Jordan, however, was: “I can take you one-on-one.”

Yep, that sounds like 22-year-old Kobe. (To be fair, that also sounds like 32-year-old Kobe, but it sounds even more like the younger one.) Of course Kobe’s going to say that to Michael Jordan when his coach has set up a special meeting in order to help Kobe learn the importance of playing with his teammate. Duh. This is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about here.

Nowadays, any time you hear about Kobe Bryant being a jerk, it comes along with tales of his great work ethic, how he’s won five championships and how he’s been able to remain an elite player for a long time despite playing more basketball than anyone should really be playing. Now, there are caveats and justifications.

Back then, when Kobe was a rising star rather than an established one, he was the kind of dude to tell the greatest basketball player ever that he could beat him one-on-one. It’s that confidence that made him as wonderful as he is today, but it’s the same confidence that made him the most polarizing player of his generation. A lot of people hate Kobe to this day because he was pretty arrogant when he entered the league.

But really, if you still want to hate the early-2000′s version of Kobe Bryant in 2011, do so because he’s probably the reason Michael Jordan ever joined the Wizards. After all, this very conversation is the exact kind of thing that would drive Jordan to return to the NBA at age 38 just to prove he could beat Kobe Bryant one-on-one.

Thanks for nothing, Kobe.