Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour stop in Chicago on Sunday—a 126-115 loss for the Lakers—carried yet another reminder of how Bryant’s NBA path could have gone, and how it could have been dramatically affected by a change of scenery.
Though a lifelong Laker, Bryant’s dissatisfaction with the organization in 2007 nearly led to him being traded. Namely, the Bulls were reportedly prepared to bring Bryant to Chicago. With Kobe’s veto power, the reasons of which were never fully made clear, the trade never materialized. Kobe stayed a Laker and the Bulls built up a playoff-caliber team through draftees like Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose.
But one thing Bryant did address before Sunday’s game was that his legacy, compared to Michael Jordan’s, had nothing to do with a possibly vetoed trade.
“Do I seem like the type to cower to something like that?” Bryant asked rhetorically (via ESPN.com). “C’mon, man. No.”
Bryant expanded on the idea further:
My wife and I were actually planning travel arrangements to come out to Chicago and look at some homes and schools and things like that,” Bryant said before the 126-115 loss. “Then once [Shaquille O’Neal] demanded a trade, it was like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to trade me anywhere.’ The sign-and-trade option just pretty much went off the table. ”
Bryant later added: “So if I was fortunate enough to come here, if that trade had happened and I’d be here, it’s not a pressure situation to live up to what he’s done. It’s more, can I carry on this man’s legacy? Can I do it justice? Can I represent Chicago the way that it should be represented in his honor? Just a tremendous, tremendous amount of influence.”
In some ways, Bryant and Jordan’s careers will always be compared because, well, they’re not dissimilar. They’re two of the greatest off guards in NBA history, they shared a coach (Phil Jackson), won multiple titles and both are considered pathologically competitive to the extreme.
Still, Bryant’s legacy was always going to carry its own weight. Even if an ’07 trade occurred, he was already a part of three title-winning teams, had won a scoring title and was near his apogee as a player in 2007. But the concept of Kobe being asked to live up to someone else’s status would have made for a fascinating transition. Undoubtedly, Kobe would have been under pressure to take the Bulls to Jordan-esque levels, regardless of the supporting cast.
In the end, Bryant helped the Lakers win two more titles (and played for a third) and established himself as one of the game’s greatest. That label probably still would have held had he gone to Chicago, but being tied to Jordan—though Jordan was long gone in Chicago—would have been interesting. It’s fair to say, though, the best thing for both players was to have separate identities with different franchises.