In 2004, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
At the time, Jerry West, a Lakers legend in his own right, was the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies.
According to West, Bryant was ready to come to Memphis and play for the Grizzlies, but West didn’t let it happen.
Kobe on the Grizzlies?? It almost happened 👀
— Podcast P with Paul George (@PodcastPShow) June 12, 2023
“He became a free agent, and his agent then was Rob Pelinka,” West recalled. “So, I met them in Orange County in a hotel room, and he said he wanted to come to Memphis and play basketball. And I looked at him, and I said, ‘You kidding me?’ And he said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Kobe, no, no, you belong somewhere out here, okay?’ And even though he woulda never played there, I just wanted to reassure him that — don’t feel like you have any obligation with me or the Grizzlies to play here. I guess in some sense, that might have been tampering. I didn’t look at it as tampering because he was at our house all the time. He ate at my house a lot. I felt more like a father figure with him.”
West’s advice to Bryant obviously stuck, as the late great ended up spending his entire NBA career with the Lakers.
Across 20 seasons with Los Angeles, Bryant etched his name into the NBA history books with five championships, two Finals MVP awards, one league MVP award, 18 All-Star selections and countless other honors.
When he was a free agent in the 2004 offseason, he was already a three-time champion with the Lakers. But if he had left the team and gone to a place like Memphis, he wouldn’t have been able to lead L.A. to its 2009 and 2010 championships.
Bryant, of course, died in 2020 in a helicopter crash. He was formally inducted into the Hall of Fame the following year.
During that 2004 meeting in Orange County, West clearly gave Bryant some advice from the heart and put business to the side. It’s fascinating to learn that the then-Grizzlies executive was willing to talk a superstar player out of joining his team.
Very few NBA players spend their entire careers with the same team, especially these days. Bryant did, however, and he accomplished some timeless feats along the way.