After spending all 20 seasons of his career suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant is retired now. Throughout his “farewell tour,” one of the things Bryant consistently brought up was how happy he was for the rare opportunity to hang up his Nikes having played in just one uniform for his entire NBA career. But what if he had been traded in his fourth season?
If that hypothetical seems unfathomable, it turns out it was indeed on the table, even if only seemingly for a moment. Throughout this offseason, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson has been writing pseudo-diary entries for Today’s Fastbreak and his longtime friend Charley Rosen. Most of the entries have focused on Jackson’s feelings about his time with the Knicks last season, but on Friday, he touched on his relationship with Bryant.
While it sounds like by the end of their time together Jackson and Bryant got along swimmingly, things weren’t as perfect early in their relationship. At one point, Jackson says he even considered trying to trade Bryant for Grant Hill:
“When Kobe was healed and ready to return [from a broken wrist earlier in the season], I was a bit reluctant to make a major alteration in our winning combination. So I suggested that Kobe come off the bench. ‘I don’t see myself not starting,’ was his response. ‘I don’t want to be known as a bench player.’ Here was a 20-year-old already concerned about his legacy. So we had a little pushback, an indication of what might lie ahead.
“A couple of weeks later, we’re still winning and Shaq is completely motivated. But Kobe was only averaging about 19 points per game. So Kobe called Jerry West and wanted to know how Jerry and Elgin Baylor both averaged 30 points. Kobe also said that he wanted to be traded. Of course, Jerry told me about the conversation. And, for a few minutes I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill. Make that a few seconds.
“The thing was that Kobe already saw himself as being one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. I thought that, in time, he would indeed reach that goal.
Teams generally don’t trade guys they think have that kind of potential, and thankfully for Lakers fans, logic won out, with Jackson writing “Anyway, he was not going to be traded.”
To be clear, Jerry West was still the Lakers general manager at the time, and he and then-owner Jerry Buss would have had to approve any Bryant trade, which now seems preposterous. Grant Hill was a great player, but Bryant was younger and had already given the Lakers enough reason to be incredibly high on him, despite his at-the-time-problematic-to-Jackson headstrong nature.
Still it’s interesting (read: sad) to think about how different that trade would have left Lakers history. With Hill soon destined for injury woes, would the Lakers have been able to three-peat? Would the team has won titles in 2009-10? It certainly doesn’t seem as likely.
Anyway, Jackson’s entire dispatch is worth a read for anyone curious about his relationship with Kobe, and you can do so here.
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