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Kobe Bryant Still Claiming Hornets Never Wanted Him

02 December 2015: Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) warms up at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Washington Wizards, 108-104. (Photograph by Icon Sportswire)
Icon Sportswire

According to a report from Baxter Holmes of ESPN, Kobe Bryant is sticking to the claim that the Charlotte Hornets never wanted him. After his final game in Charlotte, Bryant spoke with Holmes.

Charlotte never wanted me,” Bryant said after scoring 20 points on 5-of-20 shooting during a 108-98 loss on Monday. “[Hornets coach Dave] Cowens told me he didn’t want me. It wasn’t a question of me even playing here. They had a couple of guards already, a couple small forwards already. So it wasn’t like I would be off the bench much. ”

“I mean, I had grown up watching basketball,” Bryant said. “I knew who Dave Cowens was and [was] pretty excited [to play for him]. Then I was like, ‘Oh, all right.’ I quickly transitioned from smiley kid to killer instinct.”

“Cowens told me, ‘We don’t really need you here,'” Bryant said.

That’s not an entirely accurate representation of the truth. Rick Bonnell wrote about what actually unfolded last year:

I was there, covering the 1996 draft and the ensuing trade for the Charlotte Observer. To suggest Hornets general manager Bob Bass or anyone else in the organization rejected Bryant is absurd.

Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, and then-Lakers general manager Jerry West manipulated that draft masterfully. West wanted Bryant and he also wanted to create enough space under the salary cap to sign center Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent. He ended up with both, reinvigorating the Lakers.

The Hornets were more or less pawns in all this. Tellem wouldn’t let some lottery teams -– including the New Jersey Nets and the Hornets -– work out Bryant, a high school player from suburban Philadelphia. About a week before the draft Bass asked me what I was hearing about all this. He suspected the same thing I did, that Tellem was trying to direct Bryant to a team outside the top picks.

In other words, the entire trade had been worked out before the Hornets ever drafted Bryant, so it’s not fair to take it is as some kind of slight against Bryant. Remember that at that time, Bryant could have just withdrawn his name after being drafted and really screwed the Hornets (or any other team) over. So Tellem, one of the most powerful agents in sports history, was the one in the driver’s seat here.

Which is why when Bonnell talks about how the threat of Divac retiring rather than going to Charlotte, “…Put Tellem in a nasty mood. Eighteen years later I remember him screaming at me over the phone from Southern California that Bryant would be a Laker no matter what.” And that’s why all this was worked out beforehand.

There’s a misperception that some have that the Hornets drafted Kobe and then threw him away in a trade. What would be the point of that? They drafted him to trade him and keeping him was never really an option. Tellem would never have allowed it. I leave open the possibility that Tellem manipulated Kobe, then just a 17-year-old kid, just as much as he did everything else. So maybe Kobe still has that honest perception, but it’s not accurate.

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