Kobe Bryant played his whole career with the Lakers and will have two jersey numbers retired. But he almost played for the Nets.
Even though Bryant and former agent Arn Tellum allegedly skipped workouts in an effort to play for the Lakers, the Nets were considered the most likely to select him after they were blown away during his workouts. New Jersey had the No. 8 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and targeted Bryant.
Joe Taub, who was a primary owner of the franchise, said that they “were ready” to select the future superstar.
In fact, the team hosted Bryant’s parents in New Jersey the night before the draft. They “were thrilled” that he would play within commuting distance of where they lived in Philadelphia.
But it would have been a pick with tremendous risk for first-time NBA coach John Calipari (who now coaches in college at Kentucky) as well as general manager John Nash (via ESPN):
“According to Nash, Bryant’s camp called him and Calipari and told them he wouldn’t play for the Nets. Playing overseas in Italy was mentioned although Nash said he never bought it.”
Nash, once the general of the Sixers who still had ties to Philadelphia, had heard incredible things about Bryant. He reportedly believed New Jersey ought to call his bluff.
Bobby Marks, who worked in the front office for the Nets, noted Bryant had four draft visits to New Jersey. Marks believes that he would have played for the Nets if they pulled the trigger.
Jayson Williams, who would have been a teammate of Bryant in New Jersey, also believes the Nets were outsmarted.
Bryant even said a year a year after the draft that Jersey “would’ve been fine” and there was no problem. If the Nets had not backed down, the entire course of basketball history would have been changed completely.