Once it all ended, Jerry West told those around him that he just saw the best workout he ever witnessed.
The former Lakers general manager saw a promising young star named Kobe Bryant hold his own against Michael Cooper and perform dazzling move after dazzling move. Questions remained on how quickly Bryant could adjust to the NBA straight out of Lower Merion High, a suburban school outside of Philadelphia. But West didn’t need to see anymore. He’d do everything he could to land Bryant on the Lakers.
West received his wish. The Lakers traded Vlade Divac in the 1996 NBA Draft so they could received the rights to Bryant after Charlotte selected him with the 13th pick. Five NBA championships and a fourth-place standing on the NBA’s all-time scoring list suggests this was a no brainer.
But another team in L.A. apparently didn’t feel the same way.
“I had a really good workout with the Clippers,” Bryant said Thursday night at the Nokia Theatre during Kobe Up Close Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel,” with the the proceeds benefitting the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Foundation to fight homelessness.
“They told me, ‘This is the best workout we’ve ever seen.’ I’m like ‘Oh man. I’m excited. I’m going to L.A. All right, are you going to draft me?’ ‘No.’
Concluded Kimmel: “That’s what makes them the Clippers.”
The Clippers are no longer the NBA’s laughing stock. They acquired Chris Paul from the Hornets after the NBA nixed the original deal that would’ve sent him to the Lakers. A brevy of young talent including Blake Griffin and a deep bench has also propelled the Clippers to two consecutive playoff appearances.
But back when Bryant was about to enter the NBA in 1996, the Clippers were the old Clippers where dysfunction ruled the day.
“I asked them why they wouldn’t draft me. They said, ‘We want to turn things around with our organization,’” Bryant recalled the Clippers saying. “‘We felt like if we drafted a 17 year old kid, that the city of Los Angeles wouldn’t take us seriously.’ So they said, ‘We can’t draft you.”
Kimmel then deadpanned: “They always make the best decisions.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org