Jerry West: the Showtime genius who ‘stole’ Kobe Bryant for the Lakers

Jerry West: the Showtime genius who ‘stole’ Kobe Bryant for the Lakers

Jerry West was always ahead of his time. He was as a player, then as a coach and when he left the bench he was asked to return but although he refused, he again showed his genius from the front office

That’s where he also had the enormous ability to influence the destiny of the Lakers, the team of his life that benefited from his intuition to reign in the NBA for decades.

Vanessa Bryant fulfills one of Kobe Bryant’s lifelong dreams

West, the player the NBA looked to for its famous logo, the one who received the first Finals MVP and the only one for a player on the losing team, was the great architect of the Lakers of the 1980s.

He spent three years as coach, but it was from the front office that he pulled the strings to create a nearly unbeatable team. In 1982 he was named general manager and under his command the Los Angeles Lakers managed to build a sports giant around players such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.

He created ‘Showtime’ and increased the rivalry with the Boston Celtics that largely saved the NBA and opened the door to modern basketball.

The Kobe and Shaq deals

But one of his greatest works took place in the mid-1990s as executive vice president in a move that then brought him a lot of criticism. Today it is considered one of the most impactful deals in the history of the league.

The fact is that on July 11, 1996, the Lakers acquired Kobe Bryant, a 17-year-old who had decided to enter the Draft without going through college (it used to be possible), directly from high school.

The fact is that the Lakers had Kobe on their radar after some workouts he had done before the draft in L.A., where the young player had impressed the Lakers’ general manager, Jerry West. But the Lakers had no high picks in that draft (they selected Derek Fisher with the 24th pick), and Kobe was chosen by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick.

At the time, the Lakers were trying to make salary space on their roster for the impending arrival of Shaquillle O’Neal, who was leaving the Orlando Magic. That and the fact that the Hornets needed a center sparked West to trade Vlade Divac to Charlotte, freeing up salary cap space while convincing the Hornets to give hem their 13th pick in the draft in return.

Waiting for Kobe to fall to the 13th spot was a problem. Not going through the NCAA deterred many teams that had very high picks, but the New Jersey Nets did consider the option of selecting Bryant with their No. 8 pick. They ended up selecting Kerry Kittles in case Kobe made good on his pre-Draft threats to go play in Italy if he wasn’t picked by a team he liked.

After his pick, Kobe was traded to the Lakers despite Vlade Divac’s problems with going to Charlotte, which led him to even threaten retirement.

Then Shaq arrived a few days later and together they won three rings, with West celebrating in the offices, as he had been the architect of the arrivals of Kobe, from the Draft, and Shaq, via free agency the same season.

In the early 2000s, West left the Lakers due to health problems, but he returned to the front office with the Memphis Grizzlies and his path crossed again with Kobe Bryant.

West himself recounted years later on a Paul George podcast that when Kobe became a free agent in 2004, he had a meeting with Kobe and his agent, Rob Pelinka. In it, the player told him he wanted to play for the Memphis Grizzlies.

West recalled that he turned to Kobe and said, “No, no, no. Kobe, you belong out here (Los Angeles),” and eventually convinced him to stay with the Lakers. Had he played in Memphis at that time, he would have played alongside Pau Gasol, then with the Grizzlies. The two would play (and win) together years later with the Lakers.

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