We now know for sure that Kobe Bryant will retire as a Laker for life. The farewell tour officially begins tonight in Philadelphia, where he will be booed … most likely. They have booed Kobe in Philly since he was a 17-year-old rookie in the NBA, and Philly fans have a ton of outrage- most of it directed at Sam Hinkie – that they are eager to vent on somebody, anybody.
So it will be an interesting start to Bryant’s first of 32 remaining road games, and it will perpetuate our fascination with one of the greatest but most polarizing players in NBA history. Much has already been written about how horrid Bryant has played this season, the latest comments coming from Jerry West.
But the task for me today is to tell you a Kobe story that was big news back in 2007 but has since faded from the memories of too many fans. Heck, a large segment of the millennials may be completely unaware of this one, but don’t get me started on what the millennials do know (everything, according to them) and don’t know (generational arrogance is toxic. See: Boomers, Baby.)
So here’s the story …
Back in 2007, Kobe wanted out of Los Angeles. He was feuding with management, he was feuding with his teammates, he was at the height of his diva stage and he was coming off all the bad publicity that was associated with the rape allegations that were made against him in Colorado. Lakers management was sick of him, too, and they were working with Kobe on fulfilling his desire to be traded to one team and one team only: the Chicago Bulls.
By the time opening night of the 2007-08 season arrived on Halloween, the entire NBA was waiting for the blockbuster to happen. Mitch Kupchak and John Paxson had gone over more than a half-dozen proposed deals, and they finally settled on a swap of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas.
Problem was, Bryant had a trade veto. And he kept vetoing the deals that were on the table, wanting one or possibly two things: for the Lakers to be crushed in the deal, and/or for the Bulls to retain enough talent to make a legitimate run at the title.
I was working for ESPN.com at the time and I was particularly well-sourced on the specifics.
An excerpt from my Halloween night story from the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, where the Bulls lost in overtime:
“A source with knowledge of the trade talks said Deng has been included in proposals swapped between the teams, but Bryant has continually threatened to veto almost any deal in which Deng would be included. … The source said talks between the teams had stagnated, though by no means were they dead. And while the difficulties involved in the deal — making the salaries match, and trying to trade players onto 15-man rosters now that the preseason roster flexibility has elapsed — continued to be formidable, the Bulls remained determined to pursue every avenue toward acquiring Bryant from the Lakers. Magic Johnson, who owns a small percentage of the team, was critical of both the Lakers and Bryant during his guest spot on Tuesday’s Lakers-Rockets telecast on TNT. “Watching the players and looking at their body language, they are going to have to make a decision about Kobe in the next week or two,” Johnson, quoted by The Los Angeles Times, said. “It’s got to come to a head. You’ve either got to trade him or come out and say you’re going to keep him. Even Kobe needs it. He missed nine free throws [Tuesday]. It’s on his mind too.” As ESPN.com reported on Saturday, the Lakers have asked for Deng, Thomas, guard Ben Gordon and rookie Joakim Noah as the core parts of any trade for Bryant. Contrary to most reports, the Bulls remain ready and willing to deal Deng, the source said. But if they’re going to include Deng in a deal, they will not part with more than one of the other three, said the source. Even then, it is not clear that any trade involving Deng would be acceptable to Bryant, who is wielding the power of the NBA’s only no-trade clause by threatening to veto certain deals. “It’s not just the Bulls and Lakers who have to be happy with this deal. Kobe does, too, and that’s a major factor,” the source said.
Kobe’ stubbornness eventually precluded from this deal getting done, and the rest, as they say, is history.
With the help of the acquisition of Pau Gasol later that season, Bryant went on to win titles with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, the Bulls have been struggling ever since to make a return to the glory years of Michael Jordan in the mid-1990s.
If not for Luol Deng, Mr. Bryant would most certainly have not been a Laker for life.
A few more tidbits from the time Bryant almost was traded in the video below with Cinesport’s Noah Coslov. Click on the box to give a listen.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.