Bryant, who entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year, won five championships across his two decades with the Lakers. However, Buss continues celebrating the 18-time All-Star for a statistic on his resume which has nothing to do with per-game averages.
Jeanie Buss doesn’t expect many players to follow in Kobe Bryant’s footsteps
Bryant entered the league in 1996, and he departed in April 2016. All of his 1,346 career regular-season games and 220 playoff appearances came in a Lakers uniform.
In a recent interview with The Athletic, Buss made it clear she believes that Bryant’s loyalty to the franchise marked the end of an era. She doesn’t believe modern NBA players will play their entire careers for one team, especially not in a period of massive contracts and superteams.
“It’s going to be very rare to see that. It’s just the way the collective bargaining agreement is; it encourages a lot more movement than it did before. And I do think it’s made the league more interesting, more balanced in increasing engagement in the offseason … there were so many headlines [during the NBA’s free agency period] that put us right up there with the Olympics going on.”Jeanie Buss
Of course, it’s worth noting that Bryant wanted the Lakers to trade him at times in his career. That included a point in 2007 when it appeared Bryant, who won the NBA MVP Award later that year, could join the Chicago Bulls. However, the Lakers kept their legendary shooting guard and won two titles over the next three years.
Udonis Haslem is among the last of a dying breed in the NBA
Players changing teams, especially at the end of their career, isn’t at all new in the NBA. Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone spent his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2003-04 campaign. Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play two seasons for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s.
However, basketball fans also saw the likes of Jazz great John Stockton and Pacers icon Reggie Miller spend their entire careers with one franchise. Warriors fans may see the same with Stephen Curry, who turned 33 in March.
Outside of that, today’s players are more likely to follow Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, each of whom chased titles, than they will mimic Bryant. Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who is essentially a coach at this point, has been with the team since 2003 and would likely sooner retire than accept a trade elsewhere.
Outside of that? Damian Lillard has been with the Portland Trail Blazers since 2012, but he’s been linked to trade rumors in recent years. The same goes for Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who went three picks ahead of Lillard in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo (a member of the Milwaukee Bucks since 2013) and Devin Booker (who the Phoenix Suns drafted in 2015) will eventually change things and inspire future players to only suit up for one team. But one can understand why Buss, and many fans at home, might be skeptical.
Baseball and hockey have some players keeping the trend alive
Buss has every reason to remain skeptical that the best basketball players will stay with one team for their entire career if they play for, say, at least 15 seasons. Baseball and hockey are doing their best to keep the trend alive.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is in his 15th season, and he’s never played a game for anyone but the Reds. The St. Louis Cardinals have two players, catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright, who debuted with the team in 2004 and 2005, respectively, and never left. Wainwright, however, spent his first four minor league seasons in the Atlanta Braves’ system, so whether or not he counts is up to you.
Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been with the team so long that he was their first draft pick in 2005, only months after the team moved from Montreal. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner made their MLB debuts in 2008 and, as of publication, had only suited up for their respective teams.
The NHL is far kinder to the trend. Through the end of the 2020-21 season, 11 total players — led by Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron-Cleary and Los Angeles Kings great Dustin Brown — remained active and had played at least 15 seasons exclusively for one team. Bergeron and Brown each entered the league during the 2003-04 season and never left.