Calling it the “saddest day of his life” while honoring Kobe Bryant’s legacy Tuesday in a TNT special segment, an emotional Jerry West revealed a never-before-told story about Bryant’s legacy.
Bryant was among nine people who died in a tragic helicopter crash Sunday, and the week has seen basketball fans, close friends and adversaries mourn the five-time NBA champion.
West, now an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers, is famously known for trading for Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA draft when he was the Lakers’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
On the TNT show, West recalled a time in 2004 when Bryant was a free agent and frustrated with the Lakers as his relationship with teammate Shaquille O’Neal had deteriorated. West said he felt like a father figure to Bryant when he had a falling out with his parents. Their relationship remained strong when West left the Lakers in 2002 and became the Memphis Grizzlies general manager.
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“No one knows the intimate talks I had with him,” West began. “I remember when he was gonna leave the Lakers. I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone. He was gonna sign with the Clippers. I told him, ‘Kobe under no circumstances can you do this.’ He was mad at everyone, the Lakers, the owner, everyone.”
Part of West’s reasoning when consulting with Bryant was the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling, who was eventually banned from the NBA for life in 2014 after recordings surfaced of him using racist epithets. Bryant said in a 2016 radio interview that he was “very close” to signing with the Clippers. But O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in July 2004, and the next day Bryant re-signed with the Lakers.
“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,” West recalled. “He supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers, and after the last one we talked the last time. But there’s so many things we talked about as he was just seeking information.
West was an executive with the Lakers during the first (2000) of their three titles in a row with O’Neal and Bryant as co-stars. West said his mentor-mentee friendship with Bryant was deeper than words could describe.
“Honestly, I felt like his father for two years,” a teary-eyed West said. “I don’t know if I can get over this, I really don’t.”
West, who is currently the logo of the NBA brand, was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 and last year was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump.