The folklore involving Kobe Bryant playing for Duke had he not opted to join the NBA out of high school runs pretty deep.
Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bryant developed a strong bond both through the recruiting process and through two U.S. Olympic gold medal runs. Bryant asked the Lakers to hire Krzyzewski in 2004 after parting ways with Phil Jackson. Even Bryant has openly suggested he would’ve played for Duke.
Instead, Bryant would’ve chosen their arch rival down Tobacco Road.
“If I had to make a decision I probably would have went to Carolina because of the competition,” 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. “The year before, Vince Carter had played for Carolina and was the best guard in the country and I wanted to test myself against him and play against him every day in practice.”
Although Bryant’s latest answer contrasts what he has suggested earlier, North Carolina was one of many schools to pursue Bryant out of Lower Merion High, a suburban school outside of Philadelphia. Bryant told the New York Post’s Peter Vecsey last year that he specifically cherished the recruitment letter from former Tar Heels coach Dean Smith.
Had Bryant joined the Tar Heels in 1996, he would have been a part of a stacked team that featured Carter, Antawn Jamison, Shammond Williams and Ed Cota. It’s possible North Carolina would’ve fared better than 28-7 and advanced past the Arizona Wildcats in the 1997 NCAA Final Four. Of course, comparisons between Bryant and Michael Jordan would heighten even more.
Instead, Bryant chose for the NBA. The Charlotte Hornets drafted him with the 13th pick. The Lakers followed the insistence from general manager Jerry West to trade Vlade Divac for the rights of Charlotte’s draft pick to land Bryant. Five NBA titles and a fourth place finish on the NBA’s all-time scoring list later, Bryant can sit back and joyfully reflect on the what-if scenarios.
“I love [Krzyzewski],” Bryant said. “The truth has to come out.”
*The Associated Press contributed to this report
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