(Source) Tuesday, on the first day of NBA free-agency, Kobe Bryant decided to get something off his chest on Twitter: That 18 years ago the Hornets told him “they had no use for me,” so they were trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers. Apparently time has eroded future Hall-of-Famer Bryant’s memory.
I was there, covering the 1996 draft and the ensuing trade for the Charlotte Observer. To suggest Hornets general manager Bob Bass or anyone else in the organization rejected Bryant is absurd.
Kobe Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, and then-Lakers general manager Jerry West manipulated that draft masterfully. West wanted Bryant and he also wanted to create enough space under the salary cap to sign center Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent. He ended up with both, reinvigorating the Lakers.
The Hornets were more or less pawns in all this. Tellem wouldn’t let some lottery teams -– including the New Jersey Nets and the Hornets -– work out Bryant, a high school player from suburban Philadelphia. About a week before the draft Bass asked me what I was hearing about all this. He suspected the same thing I did, that Tellem was trying to direct Bryant to a team outside the top picks.
The morning of that draft we got a tip at the Observer that the Hornets were discussing a trade to acquire a center. Eventually, working with Scott Howard-Cooper, then of the Los Angeles Times, we figured out this was the deal: If Bryant lasted to the Hornets’ 13th pick, they would select him and deal him to the Lakers for Divac’s pre-existing contract. That gave West both Bryant and the cap space to pursue O’Neal.
This got a little complicated when Divac threatened to retire, rather than report to the Hornets. I asked Bass what he’d do if Divac didn’t relent and Bass said he’d keep Bryant.
That put Tellem in a nasty mood. Eighteen years later I remember him screaming at me over the phone from Southern California that Bryant would be a Laker no matter what.
Divac gave in and the deal was completed in July. A few weeks into his rookie season I caught up with Bryant at Madison Square Garden before a Knicks game, and asked him what would have happened had Divac retired.
He grinned and said he’d be a Hornet, that anything else was just a bluff. So the idea Bryant now views any of this as the Hornets dissing him — in a tweet with 41,000 retweets and nearly 35,000 favorites — is really fuzzy memory.
Our Editor’s take on Kobe Bryant:
This is the best. I’m all for celebrating Kobe’s career, by every measurement he’s a top 10 player of all time. But this white washing that has been done the past few months is insane.
People pretending that Kobe wasn’t a colossal dickhead, that he didn’t help break up one of the best duos of all time with Shaq, that he wasn’t a pretty shitty teammate most of the time, that the Colorado incident didn’t happen, that he didn’t give himself that stupid “black mamba” nickname. Come on.
You can say the guy was an incredible player and also a shitty person. We don’t have to pretend that Kobe cured cancer and was this incredible revelation to the sport of basketball. And now we’re at this point, where even Kobe is getting in on the act. Does anyone actually think the Hornets didn’t want Kobe Bryant?
I mean anyone who knows even a little bit of history knows that the Hornets wanted him AND the Nets wanted him. John Calipari was obsessed with Kobe Bryant but Kobe’s agent wasn’t letting him go anywhere but the Lakers. This is like when the Number 1 seed tries to do the “nobody believes in us” thing. Kobe Bryant trying to tell the world that the Hornets dissing him fueled his fire. No, Kobe, your psychopathic competitive drive made you who you are, and that’s ok. Great player, pretty shitty guy. Salute, Black Mamba!
Swing by The Caddy Shack Blondo or West Omaha and catch Kobe’s final game while enjoying our food and beverages.