Several times in his 20-year career, Kobe Bryant looked like he was leaving the Lakers. But Jerry West didn't want him to play for Donald Sterling.
When the Lakers were upset by the Pistons in the 2004 NBA final, the Kobe Shaq era clearly came to an end. O’Neal wanted an extension. Phil Jackson left as head coach. Bryant, a free agent, did not feel valued by the Lakers and was ready to change the Staples Center changing rooms and join the Clippers.
Then former Lakers general manager and mentor Jerry West, who fired Bryant from high school in 1996, stepped in, stressing that it would be a mistake to play under Sterling, who was later robbed of his property and banned by the NBA racist Recordings of him were released in 2014.
"Nobody knows the intimate conversations that I had with him" West said Tuesday night on TNT, "I remember when he wanted to leave the Lakers. I've never mentioned this to anyone. He would sign with the clippers. I said to him, "Kobe, you can't do that under any circumstances." He was mad at everyone, the Lakers, the owner, everyone.
"I said," Kobe, you can't play with the clippers, you can't play for that owner. Point. "We had two talks about it," West recalled. “He's supposed to be committed to the Clippers, and the last time we talked was after the last one. But there are so many things we talked about when he was just looking for information. "
Bryant later admitted how close he was to the other team in town. But O'Neal was traded on the Heat in July and Bryant signed again with the Lakers the next day and stayed there until he retired in 2016.
Barely four years after Bryant's last game, he tragically died in a helicopter accident with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna on Sunday.
West, 81, does not believe this will ever make sense.
"To be honest, I felt like his father for two years," said West. "I don't know if I can get over it, I really don't know."