Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan will forever be linked as two of the greatest players in NBA history.
It was clear to see early on in his career that Kobe had modeled his game after his idol. And, honestly, why wouldn’t you want to model your game after Michael Jordan? Now imagine a scenario in which Kobe and MJ roamed the same halls? Well, that actually almost happened with the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s.
Kobe Bryant wanted to leave the Lakers to prove he didn’t need Shaq
The LA Lakers were the most dominant team of the early 2000s. While Shaquille O’Neal was still looked at as the leader of the franchise, Kobe Bryant had come into his own. They were clearly the best 1-2 punch in the NBA and the duo led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles from 2000-2002. However, the burden of playing in the shadow of Shaq was weighing on Kobe and he was ready to move on. It became no secret that the two weren’t always getting along and Bryant later explained to the Washington Post that he’d had just about enough as he neared free agency.
“The challenge had been thrown down upon me, of not being able to win without Shaq. A public challenge never really bothered me too much, but he made a couple of comments as well. I think he called me Penny Hardaway Part 2 or something like that. So that’s what [ticked] me off.”Kobe Bryant
So Kobe Bryant began to explore options.
Michael Jordan resumed his playing career in 2001
As Kobe Bryant was becoming one of the great players in the league and winning titles, Michael Jordan was making his way back into the NBA as a player. When his career with the Chicago Bulls ended in 1998, Jordan joined the Washington Wizards in 2000 as a part-owner and president of basketball operations, a role he assumed he would resume when his playing days were over.
His initial season in the nation’s capital was limited to 60 games due to a knee injury but he still led the team in scoring with 22.9 points per game. In Michael Jordan’s second and final season with the Wizards in 2002-2003, he played all 82 games, starting 67 of them, and averaged 20 points per contest, second on the team behind Jerry Stackhouse. Here’s where things get interesting.
While Michael Jordan was still playing for the Wizards, he was in contact with Kobe Bryant, who was looking for a way out of LA. Kobe actually told MJ that he planned to join Washington when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2004. It’s not known whether Jordan, who had turned 40 during his final season, would have kept playing but Kobe was ready to join his idol, but only under the assumption that Jordan would go back into a front-office role with the Wizards.
Kobe wanted to join the Wizards but only if Jordan was in the front office
When Michael Jordan ended his playing career, as previously mentioned, he assumed he would resume his front-office role with the Washington Wizards, which could have led Kobe Bryant to sign with the team when he became a free agent in the summer of 2004, the summer just after the Lakers lost the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons in five games. However, things never got that far as Jordan would be fired by Wizards owner Abe Pollin in May 2003. When asked if he would’ve joined Jordan in Washington had things worked out differently, Kobe said he was ready to go.
“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’ve helped having to be around him every day and so on.”Kobe Bryant
Naturally, in true Kobe Bryant fashion, he had no doubt that things would have worked out for the best.
“We would’ve put together a great team and we would’ve 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.”Kobe Bryant
Alas, things didn’t work out with the Wizards for either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Jordan would go on to become the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets and Kobe would sign a monster extension in 2004 to stay with the Lakers, the same summer LA traded Shaq to the Miami Heat. Kobe became the leader of the franchise and would lead the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.