Kobe Bryant has cemented his legacy as a Los Angeles Laker after 19 years with the team.
But over a decade ago, Bryant almost left the Lakers because he wanted to team up with Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards.
In the early 2000s, Jordan came out of retirement, sold his minority share of the Wizards, and began playing for the team. Bryant, meanwhile, had won three championships with the Lakers, but was in a feud with Shaquille O’Neal and approaching free agency.
Bryant admitted to Michael Lee of the Washington Post that joining the Wizards was on his mind back then:
“That’s true. A long time ago? Yeah.”
“I’ve always been very big on having mentors, on having muses and I’ve been really, really big on that. Being around guys who have done it before and done it at a high level and always tried to pick their brains and always tried to absorb knowledge. Obviously, being in that situation [with the Wizards], it would have helped having to be around [Michael Jordan] every day and so on.”
As Lee goes on to say, the Wizards didn’t have the assets to trade for Bryant while he was under contract with the Lakers.
Jordan retired for good at the end of the 2002-03 season, but Bryant still would have liked to join the team to play under Jordan. Wizards owner Abe Pollin took away Jordan’s power to run the team, so Jordan couldn’t recruit Bryant to the Wizards. A year later, under Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards went in another direction, and Bryant signed a seven-year, $US136 million contract with the Lakers (who also traded away O’Neal).
Bryant and Jordan have very similar playing styles, so the combination of two ball-dominant, scoring wings may have been awkward on the court. Bryant insists it would be an easy fit:
“We would have put together a great team and we would have won championships. Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”
Ultimately, Bryant has spent the rest of his career with the Lakers where he won two more championships in 2009 and 2010.
Bryant is expected to miss the rest of this season with a torn rotator’s cuff in his right arm.
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