In the end, the Boston Celtics went the safe route and took one of the “super six of ’96” players who could come in and help immediately — Antoine Walker. It was a good pick, as a rookie he averaged 17.5 points per game, by his second season he averaged 22.5 points a game and was an All-Star power forward for Boston.
But he did not have the career of the No. 13 pick in that draft — Kobe Bryant.
As Kobe heads into his final game ever in the Boston Garden Wednesday night, Baxter Holmes of ESPN took a fantastic look back at Kobe’s 1996 workout for the Celtics, how then GM M.L. Carr thought seriously about drafting him (to the point he consulted with Red Auerbach about it), and how things would have been different with Kobe in Celtics’ green.
“I think this kid is going to be a hell of a player,” Auerbach told Carr. “But it can go either way. He seems to be solid, but he’s a high school kid. You’ve got to make a choice based on what you need today. But I think he’s a hell of a player….”
“When I tell you this — and I don’t like to say a lot of good things about the Lakers — but I am absolutely telling you this straight-up: He was unbelievable in the interview,” Carr says. “He was the best interview that I’ve ever been a part of. Kobe knew the league as well as anyone. He knew the Celtics from a historical standpoint. He knew the Celtics probably better than most Celtics did at 17 years old….”
“We didn’t care which one of the six fell to us,” Weitzman says. “We knew we would take one of them because we needed help right away and all six of those guys were prepared to help right away, whereas Kobe, we knew we’d have to wait. And you know how the NBA works — you don’t have a long leash.”
The Celtics took Walker, and the analysis that it would take a few years for Kobe to adjust to the NBA game was accurate. But in retrospect, he would have been worth the wait.
Kobe grew up a Lakers fan, what would have done if the Celtics had drafted him?
“I would’ve tried to carry on Bird’s legacy,” Bryant says without hesitation. “Absolutely. I would’ve done it with a tremendous amount of pride and honor.”
Do yourself a favor and check out the entire Baxter Holmes article, it’s the best thing you’ll read today.