Throughout NBA history, there have been numerous “what-if” moments that changed and shaped the course of the NBA dramatically. From draft mistakes to minor trades, sometimes the most negligible and unnoticeable moves impacted one team in a horrible or great way. One of the most infamous “what-if” moments is definitely Kobe Bryant getting drafted 13th in the 1996 NBA Draft.
The Hornets would draft a 17-year old Kobe Bryant straight out of high school and immediately trade him to the Lakers, who hit the jackpot by getting one of the best players in NBA history and a true legend of the game. The Hornets would miss out badly, but they wouldn’t be the only team missing out.
The New Jersey Nets had the 8th pick in that draft and eyed the young Kobe Bryant as a potential selection. Legendary college coach John Calipari was coming off his rookie coaching season and preparing for his first-ever NBA Draft, as Kobe alarmed his radar early. But in the end, the Nets would end up selecting Kerry Kittles, as he was apparently a better and more secure fit at the time. Calipari shared that he wanted to go with Kobe, but he eventually changed his mind along with the people in the Nets organization, as they went in another direction:
“I had the eighth pick in the draft, and everyone thought I was nuts. A 17-year-old kid, a high school kid who’s just now getting to the NBA? It shows you don’t know what you’re doing. But anyway, through all those times, all the years we came in contact. One time he said, ‘You know if you drafted me, you would still be in the NBA.’ He said that too. Just a great, great guy.”John Calipari, SB Nation
Apparently, the reason for the Nets passing up on “The Mamba” was Kobe and his agent telling them they would not suit up if drafted there. Kobe would go to play professionally in Italy and join an NBA team the following season if the Nets drafted him, which seemed like a dramatic move. It was a fake-out, as Kobe didn’t really prefer playing in New Jersey. That would eventually sway the Nets management and Calipari to go with Kittles, who had a good stint with the Nets and built a solid NBA career, but nowhere near as established and glorious as Kobe’s.
Kobe eventually poked fun at the Calipari, who didn’t last too long in the NBA, returning to the college game, where he is a legend and still coaching the Kentucky Wildcats, saying he would still be a coach on an NBA team if he had Kobe. Classic stuff from “The Mamba.” Who knows, Kobe might have been correct, but who could even imagine Kobe Bryant playing in anything other than in the purple and gold. It’s incredible how dramatically an era of NBA basketball changes in the small decisions. I’m sure Lakers fans are happy Calipari and the Nets never stuck with their original idea.