But what if they had shared more than just an-court style?
When Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were feuding and Jordan was playing for the Wizards, Kobe considered bolting the Lakers to sign with Washington as an unrestricted free agent in 2004.
More than a decade ago, Bryant wanted to get away from Los Angeles, and the team he wanted to join was the Wizards, where he would join forces with his mentor Michael Jordan.
“That’s true,” Bryant confirmed recently. “A long time ago? Yeah.”
According to two people with knowledge of the situation, after Jordan decided to sell his minority ownership stake to resume his playing career with the Wizards, Bryant informed him several times he wanted to play for the Wizards — under the assumption that Jordan would return to the front office once his playing days were over.
While Jordan’s ability to land Bryant was no guarantee, a person close to him said Jordan was “confident” he would have made it happen.
Had he joined Jordan in Washington, Bryant is certain only one result would’ve unfolded.
“We would’ve put together a great team and we would’ve won championships,” Bryant said. “Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”
Kobe considered Jordan a mentor, and I can see his desire to team up with his idol. But I share neither Jordan’s confidence it would have happened nor Kobe’s confidence it would have resulted in championships.
The pairing didn’t happen, because Wizards owner Abe Pollin pushed Jordan from the front office after the third act of his playing career. And if Pollin hadn’t done that, there would have been other impediments.
After Jordan’s playing career ended, the Lakers traded Shaq, saw Phil Jackson step down and offered Kobe a seven-year, $136.4 million extension. It’s one thing for Kobe to think about giving up money to sign elsewhere or for him even to plan on it. It’s another to actually do it when his current team made such wide accommodations to lure him back.
But let’s say the Wizards re-hired Jordan as team president and Jordan lured Kobe. Jordan – who drafted Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, traded Richard Hamilton and tried to work from another city – was going to build a contender around Kobe? I don’t see Jordan pulling off the Pau Gasol trade that propelled Kobe to his last two titles. Even if Jordan has improved as an executive, there are a lot of reasons to doubt his ability in that era.
Still, it’s an interesting “What if?” – maybe one he one we can get some closure on.