Jerry West Explains Why He Rejected Kobe Bryant’s Offer To Play For Memphis As Grizzlies GM

Kobe Bryant and Jerry West

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When you consider the insane amount of talent the Los Angeles Lakers have boasted over the course of their existence, it’s pretty hard to definitively label one man as the best player in the history of the franchise.

You could certainly argue Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson are in contention, but I also don’t think too many basketball fans would vehemently disagree with the assertion that the honor belongs to Kobe Bryant.

Bryant racked up more points for the Lakers than anyone else in franchise history over the course of the 20 seasons he spent exclusively playing for Los Angeles, and there’s a reason the venue that’s now known as Arena is commonly referred to as “The House That Kobe Built.”

He also secured five NBA titles over the course of his career—including the three consecutive championships he won with the help of Shaquille O’Neal. However, their relationship was on the rocks by the time Kobe was gearing up to enter free agency in 2004, and based on what another Lakers legend had to say, he almost took his talents to another team.

Jerry West is inextricably linked to the purple and gold team he represented for all of his 14 seasons playing in the NBA, and while he spent more than two decades in their front office after retiring, he opted for a change of scenery when he accepted the job as the General Manager of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002.

West had orchestrated the trade that allowed the Lakers to secure the rights to sign Bryant in the wake of the 1996 NBA Draft, and the two men formed a close bond during their time together in Los Angeles.

Based on what West had to say on a recent episode of Podcast P with Paul George, Kobe seemed intent on following his mentor to Memphis after the Pistons were defeated by the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, and while the Grizzlies probably would’ve benefited from the acquisition, their GM urged him to reconsider.

Here’s what he had to say:

“He became a free agent and his agent then was Rob Pelinka. So I met them in Orange County in a hotel room and he said he wanted to come to Memphis and play basketball. 

I looked at him and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and he said ‘No’ and I said ‘Kobe, no. No. You belong somewhere out here, okay? And even though he would’ve never played [in Memphis], I wanted to reassure him that you don’t feel like you have any obligation with me or the Grizzlies to play here. 

I guess, in some sense, that might’ve been tampering. I didn’t look at it as tampering because he was at our house all the time. He ate at my house a lot. I felt more like a father figure with him. I had a wonderful relationship with him.” 

That would’ve been quite the development, but when you consider Kobe won two more titles after signing a new contract with the Lakers, it seemed to work out for him in the end (although Grizzlies fans may be less than thrilled with how West decided to handle things).