The Los Angeles Lakers hit the jackpot in 1996, working their way into position to select high school phenom Kobe Bryant in exchange for Vlade Divac, but the deal almost never came to be. Divac was "devastated" when he found out the Lakers were trading him to the Charlotte Hornets, and considered retirement as an option which would have held up the deal, Marc J. Spears revealed in a great story for Yahoo Sports on Vlade's involvement in the franchise-altering move.
The Lakers walked away with a future five-time NBA champion in hand and salary cap space down the road to add Shaquille O'Neal into the mix, and it's history from there. We've also heard how Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics were impressed with this predraft workout and interview, and the re-telling of the Hornets deciding they'd move his rights to Los Angeles. The farewell tour has been filled with stories revolving around Kobe's career thus far.
The words from Divac are certainly gut wrenching, though, and paint familiar feelings to the "basketball reasons" veto fallout. Here's more from Vlade, via Spears' profile:
"It felt like someone from behind hit me with a hammer," Divac told Yahoo Sports. "It was the first time in my career that something happened in a way I didn't plan. I was devastated. I was thinking, 'I play basketball for fun.' My father said when I brought my first [basketball paycheck] back home, 'Who gave this to you? Are they crazy? Do they know you would play basketball even if they don't pay you?'
"I am not going to play basketball because I have to play. I am going to play for fun. I was 28. I am not going to go somewhere and be forced to play basketball. I told my agent that I am not going to Charlotte. I loved L.A. I loved the Lakers. For every kid that played basketball, it was basketball heaven being with Magic and the other guys."
The trade put the Lakers in position to create a dynasty, with Vlade calling it the "best deal in NBA history." The former-Laker went on to the Sacramento Kings after playing two years with the Hornets, becoming a centerpiece in a bitter Western Conference rivalry.
20 years later and Kobe's taking his final lap around the NBA. The Lakers have a game in Sacramento after they host the Golden State Warriors, so expect to hear more about the history of these Pacific Division rivals over the next few days. Boston was one thing, but Sacramento is an entirely different kind of beef that's been marinating over two decades. Divac will be part of a pregame ceremony honoring Kobe, which should be interesting.
The full piece from Spears is definitely worth a read to get a different perspective on the trade that changed everything for the Lakers, so check it out over on Yahoo Sports.