Kobe Bryant’s tragic death this past Sunday has led many of his friends and colleagues to recall some of their most guarded stories about the Lakers legend. One of them, former Lakers GM Jerry West, recounted a stunning never-before-told story about a conversation between him and Bryant.
During Tuesday’s NBA coverage on TNT, West recounted how he convinced Bryant to avoid signing with the cross-town rival Los Angeles Clippers.
In 2004, the band was breaking up: Phil Jackson had left, Shaquille O’Neal wanted a contract extension and Bryant was a free agent.
West revealed that he made it very clear to Bryant that “under no circumstances” could he play for then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He said that he managed to convince Bryant to change his mind about signing with the Clippers, and ultimately re-sign with the Lakers.
Via New York Post:
“No one knows the intimate talks I had with him,” West said Tuesday night on TNT. “I remember when he was gonna leave the Lakers. I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone. He was gonna sign with the Clippers. I told him, ‘Kobe under no circumstances can you do this.’ He was mad at everyone, the Lakers, the owner, everyone.
“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,” West recalled. “He supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers, and after the last one we talked the last time. But there’s so many things we talked about as he was just seeking information.”
Bryant ultimately stayed and signed a new deal with the Lakers. Shaq was traded and Jackson would return to the team in 2005 to lead the Lakers to two more NBA titles.
Sterling was eventually forced to sell the Clippers after a highly-publicized racially-tinged tirade was recorded and revealed to the world in 2014.
It looks like Jerry West did Kobe Bryant and his legacy a bigger favor than he realized.