Kobe Bryant gets credit for staying loyal to the Lakers for two decades, never playing for another franchise — but he came so very close.
A frustrated Kobe wanted out in 2007, told Jerry Buss that, then went on pretty much every sports talk radio show in the city at the time and said so publicly. Kobe was at the peak of his powers but was being dragged down by a Smush Parker/Kwame Brown/Chris Mihm roster. It took everything Kobe had just to drag that team into the playoffs. Kobe famously flirted with the Clippers but Jerry West warned him about playing for Donald Sterling.
Recently, two people who were in the middle of those negotiations — who thought they had deals for Kobe done — talked about the experience.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Tayler Rooks of Bleacher Report he thought he had a deal.
“I thought [the Kobe trade] was done.” 👀
Mark Cuban gives the back story of how the Mavs were close to trading for the Mamba in the B/R app 🤯
📳 https://t.co/03ruOImHHY pic.twitter.com/Bmx4VCBqGa
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 16, 2022
“I thought it was done. I was in Dancing with the Stars, and we practiced a lot, like seven, eight hours a day, because I needed it. I was going back and forth with Dr. Buss… he said look, ‘I think we might be parting ways with Kobe.’ I remember it vividly because there was a [production assistant] named Elvis… and he was Kobe, Kobe, Kobe all the time. So it started to happen and I started telling him about it, and that was the kiss of death, because the minute I told Elvis, it all fell apart…
“I guess [Laker GM] Mitch Kupchak talked Kobe into staying.”
Kobe paired with peak Dirk Nowitzki would have been something to see, and likely gotten those legends rings.
The Pistons’ Joe Dumars went on Sports Illustrated’s “The Crossover” podcast with Howard Beck and told the story of how he thought he had a deal done for Kobe.
“Mitch Kupchak and I went back and forth about parameters. This is when Kobe was saying, ‘I want out. Lakers aren’t trying to win. I want out.’ It was two teams that Mitch felt like had enough pieces to do a deal for Kobe. It was us and Chicago. Mitch called and said, ‘Look, love to work out something with you.’ Take us a couple days to work it out. And then we agreed on the deal.
“At the time, Kobe is the only player that had a no-trade in his contract. So Mitch says, ‘Look, as you know, Joe, Kobe has a no-trade, so he has to approve of this. But we’re gonna take this to him and I’m gonna take this to Dr. Buss.’ He did. Dr. Buss said O.K. They took it to Kobe, and Mitch told me that Kobe said, ‘I need 24 hours or 48 hours or something to discuss this with my family. Like, Look, I need time to discuss it with my family.’ And I think Dr. Buss was like, ‘No, we need an answer in the next day’ or whatever. And Kobe didn’t want to be forced into having to make a decision that quick…
“He didn’t make a decision in 24 hours. And Dr. Buss said, ‘That’s it; I’m out. We tried to make a deal. You wouldn’t make a decision. We’re gonna move forward.’ And the trade was done.”
Internally, the Lakers didn’t want to give Kobe up, for obvious reasons. In 2008 they traded for Pau Gasol, and the rest is history. Kobe goes down in history as arguably the greatest Laker ever. A Lakers icon.
But in 2007, he was so very close to being gone.