Kobe Bryant constructed a first-ballot Hall of Fame career all spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant reached tremendous heights in a Lakers’ uniform, cementing himself as an all-time great. However, the Clippers could have changed his NBA fate if the team didn’t elect to pass on him.
Kobe Bryant’s illustrious NBA career
Bryant entered the NBA as a promising talent hoping to make his mark on the league.
The Lower Merion high school product accomplished much more than that, establishing himself as one of the game’s greatest players. Over his 20-year career, he earned five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP awards, a regular-season MVP award, 15 All-NBA Team selections, 12 NBA All-Defensive Team nods, and his two jersey numbers retired with the Lakers.
However, Bryant’s career could have taken a different path if the Clippers not passed on him in the 1996 draft.
Kobe Bryant was shocked By the Clippers’ embarrassing reason for why they didn’t draft him
After Bryant declared for the 1996 NBA draft, he received recognition as one of the top prospects from his class.
Due to the uncertainty concerning where he would land, he worked out for numerous teams in pre-draft workouts such as Lakers, Clippers, and Boston Celtics. During an interview for Kobe Bryant Up Close with Jimmy Kimmel in August 2013, Bryant voiced that the Clippers elected to pass on selecting him due to his age.
“I actually had a really good and fun workout with the Clippers. I did,” Bryant said. “I had a really good workout with the Clippers. And then they told me, ‘this is the best workout we’ve ever seen. So I’m excited, let me come to LA. So I said ‘alright, you’re going to draft me?’ – No. So I asked them why wouldn’t they draft me? They said ‘well, we want to turn things around with our organization. And we felt like if we drafted a 17-year-old kid, then the city of Los Angeles wouldn’t take it seriously. So they said we can’t draft you.”
Instead, the Clippers used the seventh overall pick to take Lorenzen Wright, who played his first three seasons with the team averaging 7.7 points per contest. After that, he bounced around with the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, and Cleveland Cavaliers over his 13-year career.
It’s a decision that the Clippers regret passing on a player that became one of the game’s greatest talents. It’s one of the many draft blunders that forever haunt the franchise.
Kobe almost joined the Clippers in free agency
Despite the Clippers’ draft day miscue and the franchise’s continued shortcomings, Bryant nearly signed with the team in 2004.
After falling disappointingly short in the 2004 NBA Finals, the star guard entered free agency with the expectation that his tenure alongside Shaquille O’Neal was coming to a close. Before Bryant inked a deal with the Clippers, former Lakers general manager Jerry West and team owner Jerry Buss stepped in to convince him otherwise.
“I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers, and I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone, he was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I’m now involved with as a consultant,” West recalled during TNT’s Inside the NBA show honoring Bryant in January 2020. “And I told him, ‘Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.’ And he was mad at everyone, the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said ‘Kobe you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner, period.’ We had two conversations about it.”
Bryant heeded West’s plea, leading him to ink a seven-year, $136.4 million deal to stay with the Lakers a day after the team traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat. Beyond that, it’s another missed opportunity the Clippers missed out on landing the Hall of Famer.