When you look back at the 1996 draft, it’s always weird to realize Kobe Bryant went No. 13 to the Charlotte Hornets. For one thing, the Charlotte Hornets don’t exist anymore. For another, Kobe Bryant is such a Mr. Laker that it’s so weird to see him in a Hornets draft hat. Plus, guys like Todd Fuller, Samaki Walker and Lorenzen Wright went before him. He’s one of the best players ever, but he went thirteenth. It’s just odd, even though it made a lot of sense back then that NBA teams would be skeptical of a high school guard.

And skeptical they were. Just check out this exchange Kobe had with then-Clippers GM Elgin Baylor. From the New York Post:

Twice he worked out for Clippers’ GM Elgin Baylor … and coach Bill Fitch. After the second, the two dream weavers invited Bryant to lunch.

“They told me it was the two best workouts they’d ever seen,” he said. “That’s it, I figured, I was going be a Clipper and play in L.A. I was pumped!”

Before Bryant had finished his fantasy, his magic carpet ride crashed. Out of nowhere, Baylor and Fitch flipped the switch.

“Your skill level is off the charts. Your athleticism is exceptional. And your energy and enthusiasm are remarkable,” they gushed. “But we can’t draft you.”

Huh? What! Why not?

“Because people out here won’t think we’re serious if we draft a high school kid at No. 7.”

And this is why the Clippers have always been the Clippers. Passing up on Kobe — not a sure thing by any means, but they still obviously know he had potential coming out the face — to take Lorenzen Wright is the kind of classic Clippers whoopsies that has always made them Los Angeles’ second-best team. Though to be fair, they did eventually trade Lorenzen Wright for Quentin Richardson AND Chris Wilcox (who turned in to Vladimir Radmanovic) so everything worked out just fine.

But at least they had a reason, no matter how stupid it is. The Clippers were a joke of a franchise, so if they were trying to gain some league-wide respect, at least you can understand where they were coming from. The Hornets though, they really had no idea what was going on.

At some point soon after the Hornets selected Bryant with the No. 13 pick, [Dave Cowens and Bryant] had a private phone conversation that went something like this.

Cowens: “You know what the deal is, right?

Kobe: “Yes, I do.”

Cowens: “Well, that’s good, because we don’t need you anyway.”

Just for the record, the Hornets’ guards back in the 1996-97 season were Muggsy Bogues, Dell Curry, Tony Smith (?), Tony Delk and 37-year-old Ricky Pierce. I am as big of a fan of Muggsy and Tony Delk’s hilariously long arms as the next guy, but it seems like Cowens might have been a little off on his quick dismissal of the future Hall of Famer. Plus, 15 seasons later, Kobe’s still doing his thing for the Lakers while the Hornets are starting Marco Belinelli. Obviously there’s no way to know if Kobe would have stayed with the Hornets this long, but who knows what happens post-Jordan if there’s no Kobe/Shaq pairing in Los Angeles.

Everybody makes draft mistakes. The whole thing is a crapshoot anyways. But passing on Kobe Bryant because you don’t want to look stupid or having some idea about not “needing” him are pretty good ways to guarantee you’ll have an article written about your error a decade-and-a-half down the road, especially if it’s pretty obvious you recognize his talent.

But who cares, five titles are boring anyways. Plus, do you realize how expensive all those championship parades are? Better to just skip that entirely and go on with your Lorenzen Wrights and Tony Smiths. Way good decisions.

(via SLAM)

Comments (16)

  1. Thats not how I heard it. I heard he and his agent forced their way to the Lakers.

    • This is absolutely correct, Steve. Kobe was always going to be a Laker. One of those dirty, behind closed doors secrets the public never hears about.

    • The Hornets knew they were going to make that trade. West was obsessed with Kobe and was doing everything he could to convince Kobe, his family, his agent (Arn Tellem) he needs to be a Laker.

      West offered the Nets Divac for the 8th pick but they rejected.

      John Calipari wanted Kerry Kittles with the 8th pick and if you remember Kittles was the most exciting rookie for the first half of that season. Owner Joseph Taub wanted John Wallace and that would of been a huge mistake.

  2. Celtics fans everywhere just threw up in their mouths a little bit knowing Dave Cowens was behind sending Kobe to the Lakers.

  3. Couldn’t Bryant be a Hornet? Could he grow to love Southern sweet tea?

    “That is an impossibility,” Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, said at the time. “There are no ifs. It would not happen. He is going to be a Laker, and that’s the only team he’s playing for.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/sports/29roberts.html

    I’m not 100% sure about the accuracy of this all though I tend to give the NYT the benefit of a doubt.

    • From the same article I quoted in the post:

      “what chance did John Calipari and the Nets have of getting him to New Jersey vs. skipping off to Italy, which was the threat by agent Arn Tellem?

      “Naw,” Kobe countered, “had the Nets drafted me, I would’ve played there and wouldn’t have tried to force a trade. I was 17, bro, I just wanted to ball.”

      • Yeah but it just seems like it was a tough choice for the team to have to make. Even if they think his agent is just bluffing and that he would play with whoever drafted him it becomes so much more risky to justify the choice in that circumstance.

        Just think of how much crap Kahn got when it looked like Rubio was never going to come stateside. Granted, Kahn deserved the ridicule he got but I just can’t find it in myself to fault the Hornets too much for what they did. Even if it looks like an awful mistake now.

  4. Think we should go back and change the 1yr of college minimum to choosing btw 2yr commitment or nothing.
    If someone wants to take a shot, it should be their choice, but the landscape of college basketball has become a joke.
    How do we expect players to know what loyalty is. The college game is more than x’s and o’s.

    • Yeah man, because the players should be forced into a second year of indentured servitude because that will teach them loyalty. They’ll have this moment where it dawns on them “Man, being on this team full of chuckers and stiffs instead of a millionaire is great. And I love going out and having a chance to blow out my knee so some boosters can feel good about themselves and the team can make a bunch of money off me. I’m sure if that happens, I’ll be taken care of by the university the same way I could’ve taken care of myself. They won’t just leave me alienated, woefully ill-prepared for the studies I could never previously focus on, and a college dropout. No sir. There’s loyalty here.”

  5. I don’t understand why high school guards were so scary to draft? Aren’t high school bigs more risky because you don’t know how they’ll grow and are more often than not much more raw than a guard?

  6. Yes, Kobe’s agent had a deal in place to get him to the Lakers. The only thing that would of messed it up is if a team like the Clips, Nets or Celtics drafted him higher…

    Yes, Kobe’s agent was trying to convince these teams not to draft him, so the deal with the Hornets would go through as hoped (planned). It’s not unusual for this type of stuff to happen.

    Moral of the story is, Clippers are idiots….

  7. The Hornets agreed to swap the 13th pick for Vlade before they even knew the Lakers wanted Kobe. The Lakers told the Hornets to draft Kobe 5 minutes before they made the pick.

  8. looks like you were as wrong about Belinelli as they were about Kobe. lol

    i’d rather have Belinelli, than Kobe.

    #bullsnation

  9. GXT wow what a hater kobe is only the best ever and Michael Jordan can lick ma balls

  10. Wow very interesting writes , elgin baylor wow i would have thought u would have made a better decision and charlotte gm say no more but elgin im ashamed and here ive watched you play as a kid in the 60s 70s etc like the writer said good read material decades later oooooopppsss

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