Kobe Bryant is among the rare breed of basketball stars who spent their entire career with one team. It’s hard to imagine the Black Mamba wearing anything other than Los Angeles Lakers uniform. Had it not been for Phil Jackson’s judgement, our fondest memories of him would have been in red and royal blue.
Jackson recently revealed that the Los Angeles Lakers received an enticing trade offer for Kobe during the 1999-00 season. The Detroit Pistons were willing to ship no less than Grant Hill in exchange for the high-leaping shooting guard.
Back then, Hill was at the peak of his powers. He was widely-considered as the heir apparent to Scottie Pippen, the NBA’s proverbial point forward. From 1995 to 1999, Hill led the league in assists per game among non-guards. At that time, he also averaged more points and rebounds per game than the young and unrefined Kobe Bryant.
Imagine if it was Hill playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000s. The idea crossed Jackson’s mind, but for some reason, he ultimately decided against the trade.
“Kobe was only averaging about 19 points per game. So Kobe called Jerry West and wanted to know how Jerry and Elgin Baylor both averaged 30 points. Kobe also said that he wanted to be traded,” Jackson told Today’s Fastbreak. “Of course, Jerry told me about the conversation. And, for a few minutes I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill.”
Bryant’s legacy benefited from Jackson’s intuition. The following season, the Lakers found their groove and made it to the NBA Finals, beating the Indiana Pacers 4-2. It was the start of a three-peat, which cemented Shaq and Kobe’s place in the annals of NBA history.
In 2007, the Pistons were a hairline away from finally acquiring Kobe. The then three-time champion demanded a trade after two unfruitful seasons with the Lakers. Sources close to the situation said the deal included Rip Hamilton, Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey and two future first-round picks.
Kobe gave the Lakers a list of teams that he wanted to play for. It so happens that the Pistons weren’t one of them. Upon hearing about the Pistons offer, Kobe decided to exercise his no-trade clause.
“I think it was close to happening,” said Hamilton, via CBS Sports. “[Kobe] told me about the trade, so I knew they were thinking about it. But at the end of the day, he had that no-trade kicker.”