Below is an edited transcript of Golden State executive and former Jerry West speaking about Kobe Bryant before the Lakers’ 116-98 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday at Oracle Arena.
On Jerry West securing the Charlotte Hornet’s draft rights that landed Kobe Bryant for the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
West: “Something very unique happened to the Lakers organization that year that I think changed the course of a franchise that had been very good. But it put it on a track to have incredible success for so many years. We had a chance to work out a 17-year-old kid, and everyone talks about legendary workouts, that’s you people that create legendary because I’ve seen an awful lot of good workouts. But for someone that age, it was remarkable the skill, the love that he had for the game, and the desire to excel.
I think the one thing that was very evident to me right away was this was a player that, from my perspective at 17 years old, I’d never seen anyone with the skill level that he had. He was really unique. And we were trying to do something I think really daring that summer. But to acquire him, we traded an All-Star center and a starting center for a lot of teams in the league. We offered Vlade Divac from the No.1 pick in the draft all the way down to 13, and finally, Charlotte, who needed a center desperately agreed to do this.
Now everyone looks back and says it’s a one-sided trade. It was not a one-sided trade. Charlotte won over 50 games that year with Vlade as a starter. So I think it’s almost demeaning to Vlade and to Charlotte to even think that that was something that was an error for them. As it turned out, it did work to our advantage because we were able to kill two birds with one stone.
We got what I thought was a number one player in the draft, in Kobe Bryant, 17 years old, and it wasn’t en vogue to draft 17-year-old kids yet. It was not. But we got the biggest prize of all in Shaquille O’Neal. And for us, it was a turning point for this franchise.
And, again, I think you look back over history of what Shaquille and Kobe accomplished together and then what Kobe Bryant accomplished without Shaquille O’Neal, it’s really pretty remarkable.
Obviously, the game has changed a lot. At one time big men were the people that everyone was looking for. Today there are almost a dearth for big players that can play with their back to the basket. And Kobe kind of transcended some of the players we see today with the way he played the game, and particularly with the enormous desire and toughness, never-quit attitude.
But maybe one of the things I admired most about him from a distance, because I wasn’t there any longer, was his ability to play when other players would simply not play. He’d play through things that other players just wouldn’t play. He was a show man, but he also was a winner. And he has led a legacy throughout the world. Millions of people love this guy, and millions of people will miss what he was able to accomplish in his career.”