Kobe always wanted to learn from the best. Whether it was great movie directors while preparing “Dear Basketball” or NBA legends during his career – Kobe always wanted to learn. The man he talked to the most was the man who saw his workout, “shot the thing down,” and traded for him on draft night. Jerry West opened his heart and shared how much Kobe meant to him and the game of basketball.
The workout Jerry West had Kobe go trough before the 1996 NBA Draft is legendary. Kobe was a 17-year-old kid from high school, and that brought a lot of question marks with him. Teams knew he was talented, but selecting a kid from high-school and it not working out was a one-way ticket to you getting fired. Jerry West knew who Kobe was but wanted to make sure before West traded for him. He didn’t even need the entire workout.
“OK, I’ve seen enough. Best workout I’ve ever seen. He’s better than anybody we have on the team right now. Let’s go.”
Jerry West, BR
But how do you get the kid? The Lakers had the 24th pick in the upcoming Draft, that wasn’t going to cut it. West looked at the board and had a deal in place with the Hornets. Vlade Divac for no.13. This still wasn’t a lock, the Nets had just hired John Calipari, and the college coach wanted Kobe at no.8. Kobe, West, and Kobe’s agent Art Tellem bluffed – they told the Nets Kobe would play in Italy if they selected him. The bluff worked, Kobe was there at 13, and the Lakers made the deal. What did West see in Kobe that made him do all that for a 17-year-old kid?
“Never in my life have I seen a workout like that. When I said I had seen enough, I meant it. I knew who he was, and just from looking at his eyes, I knew what he wanted. You need to possess more than a little nastiness to play basketball at the highest level, and Kobe had that in abundance. You need to have the cold-bloodedness of an assassin, and he possessed that, too.”
Jerry West, West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life
West saw a kid that could lead a famous franchise such as the Lakers for decades. He was right. In all his public appearances today, you could see West was heartbroken. Tears in his eyes, struggling to stay calm and talk about Kobe. When he managed, he spoke of that Kobe, the 17-year-old kid. Jerry West was one of his mentors, a father figure for a young kid being thrust under the spotlight. You know what parents say – you’re always that little kid to them.
“To see his transformation from a 17-year-old kid who used to spend time in my house with me, to my son Ryan driving him around because he couldn’t drive, he couldn’t even sign a contract because he was too young. To the constant questions about the NBA, wanting me to go to the gym, watch him work out, maybe make suggestions to him.”
Jerry West, CBS News
West had a very difficult life. His brother died in the Korean War, and everyone around him said West was never the same. He always kept to himself and didn’t let a lot of people in. The depression he experienced due to his brother’s passing, and his violent father brought him to considering suicide at a certain point. That makes these words even more powerful.
“This has been one of the most horrible days of my life. I felt like I lost a son, and frankly, I’m not doing very well.”
Jerry West, CBS News