The two greatest NBA players of the past 15 years take on one another tonight for the last time in Cleveland, as LeBron James gets one last chance to host Kobe Bryant and his L.A. Lakers.
While the star-studded affair has taken a hit in intrigue since the Lakers have sucked balls the past few seasons and Bryant has fallen from the superstar ranks, anytime The Mamba and The King share a court, it’s still must-see TV.
With the two set to battle tonight, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst—who used to be a Cavs beat writer—shared details of a proposed trade from back in 2007 that actually could have happened, with the Lakers offering Kobe for LeBron.
Here’s what Windhorst had to say, per ESPN:
To give further detail, here’s more from the ESPN story:
In the summer of 2007, Bryant was 28 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged 32 points per game and shot 46 percent from the field. He had three rings and would win his first Most Valuable Player award the following season.
Bryant was under contract for two more seasons, but he was frustrated with the Lakers after three consecutive subpar seasons following the Shaquille O’Neal trade.
“At that time, the Lakers had to do something. I was just losing faith in what they were trying to do. It was like I was a meal ticket,” Bryant told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes this week. “You come out and score 40, 50 points, fill the seats, we’re going to keep the payroll at a minimum, generate revenue. It’s like, look, listen, I am not with that, dude. I have to win without Shaq. I’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do something.”
Now, the Cavs, who had a 22-year-old James just lead them to the NBA Finals, would have been insane to take on a star like Kobe who, though successful, was still six years older than LeBron. Plus, the swap would have needed to be approved by Bryant because of a no-trade clause in his contract—which he wasn’t about to wave to go from L.A. to Cleveland.
According to multiple sources, as the Lakers went through their options, a call was placed to the Cavs. The intent of the call, sources said, was clear: Would the Cavs make James available in a potential deal for Bryant?
“I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never,” Bryant told Holmes. “That wasn’t one of the teams that was on my list. It was Chicago, San Antonio [or] Phoenix.”
When asked about the potential trade from nine years ago earlier this week, LeBron James actually told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that there might be truth behind it, adding:
“I believe it. If you give up one big fish, you got to give a big fish, too.”
From those in the Cavs’ front office, per ESPN, it was the only time they remember a team actually reaching out to inquire about a trade for LeBron James. Never before, nor since, has that happened.
While this would have been the most polarizing trade in sports history had it actually come to fruition, hoop fans are left with a “what if…” situation that seemed to work out for both teams, as the Lakers rebounded to win two titles in three seasons and the Cavs have had a stacked roster alongside James since his return in 2014.
We never got the NBA Finals we all wanted between these two, but we nearly got a swap that would have left an even bigger impact on the sport had it ever went down.