'I'm Not Going Anywhere'- Kobe
‘I’m Not Going Anywhere’ – Kobe
There’s been a lot of speculation about Kobe Bryant’s basketball future when his contract with the Lakers expires after one more season.
Will he retire from playing in the NBA? Will he play in Italy, a possibility he has raised in several interviews? He grew up there because his father was a professional player and Kobe speaks Italian.
Would he consider coaching? Or how about signing another contract to continue playing for the Lakers?
Bryant made one pronouncement in a recent television interview with Jimmy Kimmel.
‘I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’ve been privileged to play for one organization, one great organization, my whole career. I’m not thinking about playing for another NBA team.”
This is Bryant’s 17th year with the Lakers. My memory takes me back to 1996, when spectacular work by General Manager Jerry West, with approval from owner Jerry Buss, brought Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to the Lakers.
Bryant was a 17-year-old high school star in Philadelphia who had opted to skip college and go into the NBA. He had private workouts with several teams prior to the draft, including the Lakers.
“He did things we hadn’t seen before,” West told me.
And so the Lakers, who had the No. 24 pick in the draft, tried to get into position to select the kid. West then took a major gamble.
They made a trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who had the No. 13 pick. The Hornets had no intention of selecting Bryant, but in agreeing to the deal they agreed to draft whoever the Lakers wanted.
In exchange the Hornets acquired center Vlade Divac
. O’Neal was a free agent ready to leave Orlando but there was no guarantee he’d sign with the Lakers. If he hadn’t, the Lakers would have been left without a center.
West has told reporters the next few weeks were the longest of his life. But his boldness was rewarded when O’Neal did pick the Lakers.
Bryant wasn’t an instant super star. He needed to grow as a player in the world’s most competitive basketball league. In his first season he backed up starters Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones.
“We were swept by Utah four straight years,” recalls O’Neal.
But then the kid and the dominating center combined to bring championships to Los Angeles.
Ultimately, financial restrictions brought Buss to the gut-wrenching decision of parting with one important star. He decided to keep Bryant and trade O’Neal.
Today, Bryant, at age 34, is still playing at a very high level. O’Neal has retired. He makes commercials and comments on NBA games on TV.
Bryant jokes about the possibility of playing for 20 years. If he doesn’t sign with the Lakers again he’ll be romanced by other NBA owners and teams in other countries. I’m sure of that.
Will he make good his strong statement that he won’t play for another NBA team? Will he consider becoming a coach?
I don’t have answers and we’ll all have to wait together.
Oh, by the way, in the 1996 training camp in Honolulu, I met a confident rookie who played well enough to make the squad. His name was Derek Fisher, the player the Lakers chose with the 24th pick.