Kobe Bryant completed a 20-year career with a single team, appearing in more than 1,500 games for the Los Angeles Lakers between the regular season and the playoffs. In that two-decade run, he amassed five NBA championships, 18 NBA All-Star appearances and a laundry list of accolades, and Bryant’s connection with the Lakers organization and fan base remains legendary. With that as the backdrop, there has plenty of speculation that Bryant almost ended up with the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2004, and that was a topic discussed recently by Lakers owner Jeannie Buss.
Buss joined All the Smoke with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, and she was asked just how close Bryant came to landing with the other NBA tenant of STAPLES Center.
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“I never had that conversation with Kobe, but there was a game where he wore Clippers colors,” Buss said. “Not even the jersey, the colors. Very subtle. And I’m like, ‘He loves challenges,’ and that would have been a huge thing. I do think that was something that was very possible.”
In 2016, Bryant himself acknowledged that he was “very close” to signing with the Clippers in free agency, so it isn’t as if this is a mythical tale of some sort. In fact, it didn’t seem certain in 2004 that he would stick around with the Lakers, though Los Angeles ended up trading Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. Whether that was the move that directly paved the way for Bryant re-signing is up for some debate, but he did put pen to paper almost immediatly after Shaq was dealt.
Imagining Bryant in a uniform other than that of the Lakers is jarring, which Buss, Barnes and Jackson all acknowledge in their discussion. That is especially true when considering where the Clippers were in 2004 (coming off a 28-54 season), but Bryant would win two more titles with the Lakers and retire as one of the greats of all-time. The free agency of 2004 remains an all-time “what if” but happily for the Lakers, it is just that, a hypothetical.