February 10, 2016 | 11:57 am EST Update
One or the other played in every NBA Finals from 2007 to 2015, but never against each other. There is another piece of history the two share, one mostly hidden until now. According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the event, the Lakers once contacted the Cavs to investigate whether Cleveland would make James available in a possible Bryant trade. In the summer of 2007, Bryant was 28 years old and coming off a season where he averaged 32 points a game and shot 46 percent from the field. He had three rings and would win his first Most Valuable Player award the following season.
Bryant was under contract for two more seasons, but was frustrated with the Lakers after three consecutive subpar seasons following the Shaquille O’Neal trade. “At that time, the Lakers had to do something. I was just losing faith in what they were trying to do. It was like I was a meal ticket,” Bryant told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes this week. “You come out and score 40, 50 points, fill the seats, we’re going to keep the payroll at a minimum, generate revenue. It’s like, look, listen, I am not with that, dude. I have to win without Shaq. I’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do something.”
According to multiple sources, as the Lakers went through their options, a call was placed to the Cavs. The intent of the call, sources said, was clear: Would the Cavs make James available in a potential deal for Bryant? Those who worked in Cleveland’s front office remember it for one reason: It was the only time a team had ever called and made an offer for James. He was considered an ultimate untouchable. Frankly, until that time, so was Bryant.
“I believe it,” James told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin this week about the 2007 offer. “If you give up one big fish, you got to give a big fish too.” The Cavs said that James, indeed, was untouchable, sources said. Then they attempted to make the Lakers a different offer for Bryant, offering anyone else on their team in a package for him. The Lakers had no interest.
The episodes, Okafor admits, “definitely took a toll” on the court. “I thought I was playing pretty decently before it happened. I think the next two or three games, I wasn’t just really focused.” He’s in a black shirt and pants, sitting in his family room. It’s a spacious place, with pop-a-shot hoops, a chair from the 2015 Final Four and views of the city. The fireplace is on. His fake Christmas tree, still aglow, is standing in the far corner, next to two remote control trucks. “I felt like I didn’t want to be out on the court in front of so many people,” he continues. “I was embarrassed about it at the time. It was something I had to talk to my family about.” He called his private trainer, who has been working with him since middle school. “We had conversations all night,” Okafor says. “He showed me different people of high power who messed up, who have overcome. That really helped me out.”
A week later, the 76ers drop a tight 84-80 game in Boston during which Philadelphia blew a late, five-point lead and ran the team’s losing streak to 16 games. Afterward, Okafor went to a club with at least one teammate. As he left in the early morning hours, he was videoed arguing with a group of men. Okafor looked intoxicated. He was slurring his words. “We got money, you broke-ass n—–,” he yells as someone tries to diffuse the situation by directing him to a vehicle. Later, he shoves another man and then begins swinging. Someone appears to land a punch into Okafor’s upper back. In a second video, the crowd has traveled farther down the street and someone is trying to lead Okafor back to the vehicle: “Yo, Jahlil! … You don’t need that!” Okafor later shouts: “You broke-ass b—-!” He rubs his fingers together: “Munn-eeeey! Munn-eeeey!” There’s another fight. Okafor appears to land a punch. Glass seems to break. “Stop it! Stop it!” a woman screams in the background.
“It was Thanksgiving eve. Me and one of my teammates went out,” he says from his penthouse, declining to name the teammate. “As we were leaving the club, there were these guys pretty much heckling us, just normal stuff, saying, `You suck.’ I was already frustrated that we were losing. At the time, we were 0-16, and we’d just lost a close game we should have won. I can’t really talk about details [of the fight]. Pretty much what you see in the video. I was upset. I made a mistake. I let them get under my skin. I reacted. “When the video came out, it was definitely embarrassing. It was hard to watch. I’ve watched the video once pretty much because I was disgusted looking at myself in the video.”