Back in 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers changed forever with the storied franchise acquiring Kobe Bryant in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets on draft day and signing free agent Shaquille O’Neal.
Although considered a gamble on draft day, the Lakers landing Kobe resulted in five NBA titles and numerous milestones set by arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
West’s son, Ryan, was 16 at the time Kobe was brought in for multiple pre-draft workouts with the team. Ryan was only nine months younger than Kobe at the time and he was blown away by his competitive drive, according to an interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:
MT: What stood out about Kobe?
West: It was remarkable to see how far advanced a guy that was nine months older than me was. His competitiveness. Michael Cooper, although he had retired, is regarded as one of the greatest perimeter defenders of all time. And Kobe just took the challenge, went right at him, and it was unbelievable to see how skilled he was at that age. He didn’t back down from anybody at all at 17.
Even though the 1996 NBA draft was chalk full of talent with Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O’Neal and Steve Nash, GM Jerry West decided to roll the dice on Kobe by trading Vlade Divac for the rights to the 13th pick.
Obviously, after 18 years with the franchise, the gamble has paid off with five more championship banners in the rafters at the Staples Center. Ryan currently works as the Lakers assistant director of scouting and will have the tough task of helping the team decide on who to select with the highest pick in the draft for the franchise since taking James Worthy with the top pick in 1982.
With the seventh pick in the upcoming draft, the Lakers will have an opportunity to bring in a talented young player that can help get the team back to form. It remains uncertain if the player selected will become the new face of the Lakers franchise in the post-Kobe Bryant era, but there’s definitely some promising prospects that could be available once the Lakers are on the clock on June 26.
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