In a recent interview for Maccabi USA, legendary coach Larry Brown shared his most profound memories of legendary Kobe Bryant.
“I knew a lot about Kobe. I remember Tony DeLeo told me about Kobe, used to kick the guy’s ass when he worked out with him in high school.”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
With the 1996 NBA draft approaching, the teams across the league strongly considered selecting a high-school phenomenon from Lower Merion HS (Ardmore, Pennsylvania). Among those teams were the Pacers coached by Larry Brown and the Nets coached by John Calipari.
“We had the 10th pick. John Calipari, who worked for me in Kansas and then in Philly, was with the Nets. I think they had an 8th or 9th pick. I send, I won’t tell you the guy’s name, somebody to scout Kobe and I told him how much I liked him. And our scout came back and told my GM and President (Donnie Walsh) ‘he wasn’t ready, wasn’t good enough.‘”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
In New Jersey, head coach John Calipari was also eager to take his chance with a high-school star but was vetoed by the owners. The Nets selected Villanova’s Kerry Kittles with the 8th pick in the draft.
“John wanted to draft Kobe with the Nets, but their ownership said he couldn’t. Then he talked them into it, and they said, ‘Alright if Kerry Kittles is not available, we’ll let you draft Kobe.‘”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
Already at the turn of the new millennium, Kobe became one of the major stars in the league, leading the rejuvenated Lakers to three consecutive NBA championship titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
Interestingly enough, in 2000, the Lakers bested the Pacers, in 2001 the 76ers coached by NBA Coach of the year Larry Brown and in 2002 the Nets. On one particular occasion, with Brown and Calipari around, Kobe joked about what would be like if the Pacers or the Nets eventually “pulled the trigger” back in the 1996 NBA draft.
“Kobe knew that I knew a lot about him; he joked with me and John one time. He said, ‘If John would’ve drafted me, I would still be with New Jersey’, and he said if I drafted him, he would still be with Indiana. And he was probably right.”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
Finally, one of the all-time coaching greats, who was enshrined into the Naismith Hall of fame in 2002, compared two of the all-time Greats in Kobe Bryant with Michael Jordan.
“He (Kobe) was one guy who was great at both ends of the floor. You know, a lot of times, you protect your great players and don’t let them guard the best guy every night. But Kobe always took that challenge, similar to Michael, similar to what Phil (Jackson) let Michael do because Michael had so much pride at that end of the court as well. That was what separated me in so many ways with Kobe when you talk about one of the greatest of all-time. And then he was an unbelievable person.”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
Drafting a guy from high-school is always a risky proposition. But seeing the skepticism a lot of teams had about Kobe before the draft makes you appreciate Jerry West even more. The moment he saw Kobe, West shut the practice down and told everyone in LA “We have our guy.”