He would’ve turned 42 yesterday. With everything going on, we are still slowly grasping the fact that Kobe‘s not around to make a “detail” on Luka’s performance in the bubble or predict who’s going to be the champion. Not many people have been affected by the tragedy as the man who drafted Kobe and saw him grow up. Six months after Kobe Bryant’s death, Jerry West explains how he deals with an aftershock of a tragedy that shocked the entire world.
From the first instant to see him play for Lower Merion HS Jerry West just knew what type of upside Kobe has. There was no doubt in his mind when in 1996 he had to trade the Lakers starting center at the time Vlade Divac to Charlotte, to get the player Hornets selected with the 13th pick in Los Angeles.
“All of us who had shared time with him found that he was different; he wasn’t your typical athlete. His skill level was obviously off the chart. And his competitive level was so easy to see. I will tell you this – there is a lot of people who are as competitive as him, a lot of people. But, they don’t have the skill to do it. And everyone has a different way of being competitive – he was vocal, Earvin Johnson vocal and jumping all over the place, Kobe, his reactions, Michael Jordan. But trust me, there are a lot of other guys out there that are hyper-competitive. That just doesn’t project the way he did.”Jerry West, Legends of Sports
Over the next two decades, Kobe just magnetized The Staples Center for all generations, helping Lakers win five championships over his tenure and build a business empire. When he passed away, Shaq said Kobe was the greatest Laker ever. But it could’ve been a lot different.
On several occasions, Bryant was close to getting traded or signing with other teams. In 2004, Shaq & Kobe were done, and the Lakers opted for the younger guy. But, they almost started the ’04/’05 season without both of them. Angry about everything that had happened in that final year with Shaq, Kobe verbally agreed to join the Clippers. Then Jerry West stepped in and told Kobe he ‘can’t play for that owner, period.’
Three years later, frustrated with the direction of the franchise, in 2007 Kobe let the Lakers know he wanted out. The Lakers managed to assemble an acceptable deal with the Pistons – Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, and a bunch of draft picks. But, Kobe said no to that. He was still chasing Michael Jordan and wanted to go to Chicago. In the end, as many times before, Lakers owner Dr. Buss talked Kobe down and he stayed with the Lakers.
They were never close to actually pulling the triggor on a Kobe trade, and West explains the thinking behind the Lakers’ stubbornness not to trade Kobe for nearly two decades.
“I think that’s what captured the imagination. Forget older people, the ones that matter the most are the kids. They are the ones that matter the most. Because that’s who drives mom and dad to the game, when they grow up with somebody, because of the length of his career, they might have been ten years old when they started. All of a sudden, twenty years later, they’re thirty, and they might have kids, and they are dragging them to games to see Kobe Bryant.”Jerry West, Legends of Sports
The man who got Kobe in L.A. in the first place was also the one who envisioned his development into a superstar-caliber player. That same man, Jerry West, who trusted Kobe the keys to the dynasty, now points out the tremendous legacy Kobe has left.
The same way Michael Jordan did, Kobe captured everyone’s attention. Nowadays, he is a part of the basketball dictionary. When your name becomes a synonym for a relentless pursuit of greatness, you’ve done something special. A big part of that was doing it all with one franchise – one of the most storied teams in professional sports, in a city perfect for Kobe. He and LA were always meant to be together, and they always will be.