Before he became a Los Angeles Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant was donning the White and Green practice gear of the Boston Celtics—the Purple and Gold’s archrivals. An executive was impressed by Bryant’s basketball skills and overall intelligence. He was also surprised that the young Kobe was deep into the sport’s history and discussed everything and anything, including the GOAT Michael Jordan.
I’m a professional
Bryant recalled that putting on the Celtics' practice gear was the "freakiest" thing he’d ever done. It’s not because he knew that the Celtics were the biggest nemesis of the Lakers, but because he knew Boston’s place in history. He claimed that the Celtics' uniform was a "different kind of green."
"I'm looking at it like, 'Do I really have to put this on? I'm comfortable wearing the s**t that I have.' But I quickly moved past that, man. It's like, I'm quickly about to become a professional. If anything, I understand the history of this franchise and this franchise has done a lot of amazing stuff. So I was quickly able to move by that," Bryant said, per ESPN.
M.L. Carr, then-Celtics head coach and executive vice president/director of basketball operations, was present in that pre-draft workout with the Lower Merion standout. Over a dozen Celtics staff members were also present in the gym.
As Carr recalled, Bryant put on a "shooting exhibition" that day. They put him through all sorts of scenarios: catch-and-shoot, dribble across the middle, pull-up shots, and 3-point shots. Kobe fans know that these turned out to be the Black Mamba’s signature shots. At 17 years old, he was already polishing the assassin’s tools.
Kobe Bryant, basketball historian
After the pre-draft workout came the pre-draft interview. Carr claimed that it was the best pre-draft interview he had ever been a part of. At 17 years old, Bryant was already an NBA history scholar. He knew of the Celtics’ rich heritage, from Bill Russell to Larry Bird. Besides the Celtics, Bryant shared his knowledge of the Lakers, 76ers, and Knicks.
Bryant talked about the players, too. He knew all of their moves. Bird, Magic, Isiah. And, of course, his hero and would-be big brother, Michael Jordan. Carr recalled how Kobe spilled the finest details of each of the legend’s playstyles.
"He didn't mention rings, but he talked about Michael," Carr says. "He talked about Larry. He talked about Magic [Johnson]. He talked about Isiah [Thomas]. He talked about the great ones. You knew there was a hunger to be in that mix. He knew what all those guys had done. He wanted to be one of those guys that would be talked about in that same breath. There was a hunger. No question, there was a hunger."
Despite impressing the Celtics at the pre-draft workout and interview, the team couldn’t commit to Bryant. They had their eyes on Kentucky standout Antoine Walker. Carr said they had worked their tails off to be in prime position for the NBA Draft.
It’s an interesting little detail about Kobe’s history with the Celtics. Because of Kobe’s status as a Lakers legend, these narratives might have been buried in the past. But as it stands, Kobe’s pre-draft workout and interview with the Celtics prove that all of the stories are true. Kobe’s intelligence and basketball potential were already evident early on.