Going into the 1996 NBA Draft the Los Angeles Lakers were intent on figuring out a way to acquire high school guard Kobe Bryant.
In his workout for the team, Kobe impressed everyone, but especially then-General Manager Jerry West, who was willing to do whatever it took to get Bryant in purple and gold. Bryant’s agent at the time, Arn Tellum, began telling teams that Kobe wouldn’t sign if they drafted him, which scared off most, if not all front offices.
One well known rumor is that the New Jersey Nets were willing to draft him regardless, and that John Calipari was pushing for it, but was ultimately overruled. One that hasn’t been talked about nearly as much is that the Sacramento Kings were hoping he dropped to them at the 14th pick.
Jerry Reynolds is a former member of the Kings front office and he recently shared the story with Jordan Ramirez of NBA.com, revealing that Kings GM Geoff Petrie made it clear if Kobe was available when they picked, they were taking him:
At that time, high school players weren’t going that high in the draft as they did a little bit later. But Geoff made it clear to Kobe’s agent, that if his client was there at No. 14 that we would take him.
Upon hearing that, Tellum insisted that Kobe wouldn’t sign with the Kings because he wanted to play with the Lakers:
Kobe’s camp told us that if he was drafted by the Kings, he wouldn’t sign. Arn Tellem — Bryant’s agent — said he wouldn’t sign with several teams in front of us either because he wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Tellem had a relationship with Jerry West, who of course was running the Lakers at that time.
Obviously, this was something that never came to fruition as the Lakers agreed to a deal with the Charlotte Hornets who were slotted one pick ahead of the Kings. Reynolds insists that the Lakers knew that they would have to swing a deal with someone ahead of Sacramento and Jerry West did just that.
Who knows what would’ve happened if the Lakers were unable to swing that trade. After so many epic battles with the Kings throughout his career, it is difficult to envision Kobe in a Sacramento jersey.
Thankfully for Lakers fans everywhere, West was able to do what he does best, and it resulted in one of the greatest players ever, donning the purple and gold for 20 years.