The man who engineered the move, Hall of Famer Jerry West, joined Tuesday night’s emotional airing of NBA on TNT to help remember the player he brought in as a 17-year-old and watched, from close and afar, turn into one of the greatest players basketball players of all time.
Most significantly, West revealed that Bryant was on the verge of leaving the Lakers in 2004 to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. Holding back tears, West said he personally warned Bryant against the move while working as general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies.
“I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers,” West said. “I never really mentioned this to anyone. He was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I am now involved with as a consultant. And I told him ‘Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.’ He was mad at everyone at the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said ‘Kobe, you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner. Period.’
“We had two conversations about — he supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers — and after the last one, we talked for the last time. But there were so many things that we talked about, as he was just seeking information. His parents were with him for a while, and honestly I felt like his father for two years.”
West finished the memory with 12 heartbreaking words.
“I don’t know if I can get over this. I really don’t.”
“That owner” was obviously former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was infamously banned from the NBA after recordings of his racist rants came to light in 2014. West’s advice was indeed very wise.
Bryant would go onto sign a seven-year contract with the Lakers, win two more titles and cement his place in the inner circle of Laker greats. West said the drive to achieve that success was there from the start.
West was one of a number of NBA figures to make an appearance on the show, including Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade. The most emotional of all was Shaquille O’Neal, who openly cried as he remembered his teammate.
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