While it’s hardly debated that Kobe Bryant is the greatest Los Angeles Lakers player of all time, there is an argument to be made that Jerry West is one of the most influential people in team history.
West only brought the Lakers one championship as a player, but there’s an argument to be made that he won them upwards of 10 of them as an executive.
That’s because West famously was the general manager who facilitated getting Bryant to the Lakers while also signing Shaquille O’Neal in the 1996 NBA offseason. West sadly had to recall all of these stories at the most tragic time possible, following the unexpected death of Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and seven others on Jan. 26.
In an NBA on TNT tribute to Bryant, West spoke about some of his memories of the father-son like bond the two shared. During his time speaking, he recalled Bryant’s 2004 free agency, where West — who was a Memphis Grizzlies executive at the time — issued a warning to him about signing with the Donald Sterling-owned Los Angeles Clippers, via Jack Baer of Yahoo Sports:
“I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers,” West said. “I never really mentioned this to anyone. He was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I am now involved with as a consultant. And I told him ‘Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.’ He was mad at everyone at the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said ‘Kobe, you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner. Period.’
West spoke about his conversations with Bryant at this time, saying that he really felt like his father for such a long period of time even though when these conversations happened he had no stake in the Lakers at all:
“We had two conversations about — he supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers — and after the last one, we talked for the last time. But there were so many things that we talked about, as he was just seeking information. His parents were with him for a while, and honestly I felt like his father for two years.”
It is perhaps the greatest sign of the love West has for Bryant that he — being an executive for a completely different team — went out of his way to make sure Bryant did not sign with the Clippers.
Eventually, the Lakers traded O’Neal, stuck with Bryant, and the rest is history. But that entire history could’ve changed if not for West’s warning.
There are very few people more heartbroken than West during this time as to him, he lost a son. But for West to have the strength to tell these stories about Bryant given the circumstances is something that will forever be revered.