After 20 years playing in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant has become synonomous with the Lakers. He is so interwoven into the fabric of Southern California that the City of Los Angeles celebrated “Kobe Bryant Day” in his honor. It’s going to strange to see the Lakers take the floor next month without the now-retired star.
However, all of the adoration that Bryant receives now doesn’t mean that the relationship between him and the Lakers has always been smooth sailing. There have been trade demands, a trial, and public criticisms to go along with scoring binges, MVP awards, and championship trophies.
Ex-Lakers coach Phil Jackson had some particularly difficult moments with Bryant, including once calling him “uncoachable” in his book “The Last Season: A Team In Search Of Its Soul”, which chronicled the 2003-2004 Lakers. In a recent piece by Charley Rosen for Today’s Fastbreak, Jackson admits that he briefly considered accepting an offer from the Detroit Pistons that would have traded Bryant for star forward Grant Hill:
“A couple of weeks later, we’re still winning and Shaq is completely motivated. But Kobe was only averaging about 19 points per game. So Kobe called Jerry West and wanted to know how Jerry and Elgin Baylor both averaged 30 points. Kobe also said that he wanted to be traded. Of course, Jerry told me about the conversation. And, for a few minutes I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill. Make that a few seconds.”
Of course, we know now that such a move would have been disastrous for the Lakers, as Hill spent much of the remainder of his career battling devastating ankle injuries. At the time though, Hill was a 4-time All-Star who was averaging nearly 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, making him an attractive target.
Jackson deserves credit for recognizing Bryant’s determination and drive, and ultimately deciding to keep his sometimes-difficult star. There would almost certainly be less banners hanging in the rafters of the STAPLES Center if he hadn’t.