The rumors linking Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Clippers have been well-documented, but it appears the Los Angeles Lakers had a significant concern that their star player would bolt for the cross-town rival. Bryant was a free agent in 2004 and showed an interest in signing with the Clippers. During an interview on the All the Smoke podcast, Lakers owner and president Jeanie Buss admitted it was “very possible” Bryant was close to wearing a Clippers jersey.
“You know, I never had that conversation with Kobe, but there was a game where he wore Clippers colors,” Buss explained. “Not even the jersey, he wore like the colors, very subtle. I’m like, I could see [it], he loves challenges and that would have been a huge thing, right? I do think that was something that was very possible.”
After hearing Buss’ comments, longtime NBA player Matt Barnes reflected on some of the rumors he heard about Bryant’s potential exit. Barnes described the Clippers’ recruitment of the Lakers legend as a “full-court press.”
“Could you imagine that, though?” Barnes responded. “I remember they were talking about they were going to build an arena out in Orange County for him. He wouldn’t have to travel now. The Clippers put [on] the full-court press to try to get Kobe, and I was just like there is no way this can happen.”
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West on Bryant Potentially Leaving the Lakers: ‘He Supposedly Made a Commitment to the Clippers’
Days after Bryant’s death in 2020, former Lakers general manager Jerry West reflected on a conversation he had with Bryant during an interview with TNT. West was the Lakers general manager who pulled off a draft-day trade to land Bryant and noted the guard gave the Clippers a verbal commitment to join the team. West was the Grizzlies general manager at the time of Bryant’s free agency.
“I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers, and I never really mentioned this to anyone,” an emotional West told TNT. “He was going to come and sign with the Clippers who I am now involved with as a consultant. And I told him, ‘Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.’ And he was mad at everyone with the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said, ‘Kobe, you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner, period.’ We had two conversations about it, and he supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers.”
Kobe: ‘I Could See Myself Playing for the Clippers’
During a June 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler described Bryant’s deal with the team as “basically done” before he had a last-minute change of heart. Lawler described Bryant’s verbal commitment to the Clippers after the team made their free-agent pitch.
“They made their pitch to Kobe and it was a very strong one because it seemed apparent to everyone at that point that Kobe and Shaq just could no longer co-exist,” Lawler told Los Angeles Times. “Then it’s time for Kobe to excuse himself and go and Donald Sterling walks him to the door expressing concern. ‘Is this really going to happen?’ Kobe turned to him and — this is an exact quote that I’ve had repeated to me by multiple people — he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a Clipper.’ So he walked out the door and [the Clippers] are all high-fiving each other thinking, ‘By God, we’ve done it.’”
Bryant became one of the few players in the modern era to play his entire 20-year NBA career with one team. The Lakers legend went on to win two more NBA championships in purple and gold after passing on the Clippers’ offer. Even Bryant admitted that he was close to leaving the Lakers for the Clippers.
“I felt comfortable over there,” Bryant said during his 2004 Lakers re-signing press conference, via Los Angeles Times. “I could see myself playing for the Clippers.”