Kobe Bryant played his final game in Charlotte this week. It was his final game against a different franchise of the same name that originally drafted him in 1996. The Hornets picked Kobe with the 13th selection and traded him to Los Angeles for Vlade Divac. After Tuesday’s game, Kobe had this to say about the only other professional team he’s ever been associated with. Via ESPN:
"“Charlotte never wanted me,” Bryant said after scoring 20 points on 5-of-20 shooting during a 108-98 loss on Monday. “[Hornets coach Dave] Cowens told me he didn’t want me. It wasn’t a question of me even playing here. They had a couple of guards already, a couple small forwards already. So it wasn’t like I would be off the bench much. “"
Cowens denied saying anything of the sort to Bryant on draft night. Via the Boston Globe:
"“I’d never say anything like that to a player,” he said by phone Tuesday. “I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. It wasn’t about him not being able to play for us. It was just it was already worked out."
Now, this is probably the thousandth time someone has rehashed this, but it should be noted that Kobe Bryant refused to play for the Hornets – or anyone else. Having said that, it turns out both Bryant and Cowens are working with some revisionist history. Here’s a snippet from a Stephen A. Smith article the week after the draft. Via the Philly Inquirer:
"Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte."
So Cowens did appear to have an opinion on Kobe, even if the plan was to trade him all along. Of course, that article also featured some early damage control by Kobe’s agent, Arn Tellem.
"“I learned about the possibility, just the possibility, of him going to Los Angeles the day of the draft,” Tellem said. “Once I knew that, we wanted to make it happen. “He had nothing against Charlotte. It’s just that once we knew L.A. was a possibility, we did everything we could to make that happen. You have to remember something: The Hornets drafted him to trade him, not to keep him. It wasn’t that Kobe didn’t want to be there. Kobe knew that they didn’t want him.”"
In a 2007 New York Times article, this quote from Tellem surfaced about Kobe in Charlotte:
"“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.”"
Some more from the ’96 Inquirer article:
"Tellem, well-known in NBA circles as a hardball negotiator, guaranteed two days ago that Bryant would not be a Hornet under any circumstances. He expressed confidence that the deal for Divac would eventually go through and Bryant would be in a Lakers uniform."
And the Hornets were not the only team Kobe was never going to play for.
"“We got an ultimatum from Kobe, too,” Sacramento Kings player personnel director Jerry Reynolds said. “Not just Charlotte. We were at No. 14, and we were strongly considering taking Kobe, but he was gone.”"
Yet Kobe publicly maintains a chip on his shoulder two decades later.
"“I mean, I had grown up watching basketball,” Bryant said. “I knew who Dave Cowens was and [was] pretty excited [to play for him]. Then I was like, ‘Oh, all right.’ I quickly transitioned from smiley kid to killer instinct.”"
Apparently, we were robbed of a much nicer version of Kobe Bryant if only the Hornets had kept him against his wishes.