It was almost 25 years ago that Lakers great Kobe Bryant was preparing to enter the NBA draft, going pro straight from Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia. Before the draft, he held a workout for the L.A. Clippers and it just so happened that the guy charged with videotaping the workout—assistant coach Rex Kalamian—held onto the tape for all this time.
He gave part of it to the L.A. Times this week, on the one-year anniversary of Bryant’s tragic death, along with his daughter, Gigi, and seven others, in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles.
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In the film, you can see Bryant taking part in what’s called a “Mikan drill” after former Lakers center George Mikan, in which a player must quickly make layups while alternating on each side of the basket.
“This one, I knew was going to be something that I would want to look back at someday,” Kalamian told the Times. “I kind of put it aside and kept it in a box for a very long time.”
As former Clippers assistant coach Barry Hecker told me about that workout, “I could not believe the way he could get up like that. I looked at (fellow coach Jim) Brewer, and he looked at me and just said, “‘Holy s***, this kid is better than we had heard.’”
Here it is, a seldom-seen glimpse of Bryant in his 1996 Clippers workout:
Kobe Bryant-Charlotte Hornets Draft Controversy
What, exactly, Bryant was up to in the months and weeks ahead of the 1996 NBA draft has long been controversial. There were rumors among NBA types that Bryant wanted to go to the Lakers and would play internationally—he had grown up in Italy—if he did not wind up with the purple-and-gold. The Lakers had the 24th pick and there was no way that Bryant would last that long.
Bryant and former Lakers executive Jerry West have always denied that there was some backroom deal between the sides, though. Ultimately, Bryant was drafted 13th by the Charlotte Hornets and sent to the Lakers for center Vlade Divac.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) December 29, 2015
Bryant accused Dave Cowens, coach of the Hornets, of being brusque with him after the draft, telling him, “We don’t really need you here.” Cowens firmly denied that to me, saying, “Why would I do that? I was a player once. I try to treat all players with some respect.”
Here’s more of what Cowens said about Bryant, the Hornets and that 1996 draft:
I had no problem taking high school kids onto NBA teams, as long as they were ready. I would have had no objection to Kobe being on our team, and even putting him out on the floor if he earned the playing time.
They had worked a deal. It was already decided we were going to make the trade with the Lakers if everything went as we expected. I think they had another deal, with Atlanta, in place in case something went wrong with ours. They wanted him, and he wanted to play there. Bob Bass was our general manager, and Kobe’s agent (Arn Tellem) and Jerry West, they had worked out a deal where Jerry really liked him.
NBA Rumors Held That Bryant Would Only Play for Sixers, Lakers
Former Vancouver Grizzlies general manager Stu Jackson confirmed that there was ample chatter about where Bryant would and would not play before that 1996 draft. Jackson’s expansion Grizzlies had the third pick in that draft and chose Shareef Abdur-Rahim—they could not get Bryant to work out for them.
At the time, you could tell from the beginning even as a high school player that he was going to be special; he was headed for greatness. But you might recall in that draft he was only going to play in one of two different places in the league: Philadelphia, where he was from, or for the Lakers. There were rumors that he might go to play in Italy, which some draft picks used as leverage at that time, but I don’t think he was going to do any of that.
It was the Lakers or Philadelphia, and pretty much everyone knew it; his agent made sure we knew it. Philadelphia had the first pick and was going to take Allen Iverson all the way. So he wound up with the Lakers.