The 1996 draft remains one of the most star-studded in NBA history, and the Sacramento Kings reportedly wanted the biggest star of them all, Kobe Bryant.
In a class that included several future Hall of Fame players such as Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash, the 1996 NBA draft is regarded as one of the best ever. The Sacramento Kings had their eyes on a particular player.
They owned the 14th overall selection and had their eyes set on a generational talent in Kobe Bryant and hoped to draft him straight out of Lower Merion High School.
After the first dozen picks, it appeared the Kings had a genuine chance to select their guy as Bryant still waited to hear his name called.
Jerry Reynolds, a long-time member of the Kings who has a resume that consisted of roles such as head coach, general manager, broadcaster, and many others, recalled that night in 1996 to Kings.com’s Jordan Ramirez.
Then General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie was going to draft Kobe Brant if he fell to them, even if the high school phenom refused to play for the team.
“At that time, high school players weren’t going that high in the draft as they did a bit later. But Geoff made it clear to Kobe’s agent, that if his client was there at No. 14 that we would take him.
Kobe’s camp told us that if he was drafted by the Kings, he wouldn’t sign. Arn Tellem — Bryant’s agent — said he wouldn’t sign with several teams in front of us either because he wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Tellem had a relationship with Jerry West, who, of course, was running the Lakers at that time.”
Several other teams backed off of Bryant because they were aware of his desire to play for the Lakers, but not the Sacramento Kings. Whether Bryant would play for them or not, the team remained locked in on drafting him with that No. 14 selection.
Having known this was the case, the Lakers famously pulled the trigger on a trade that landed them the No.13 pick and selected Bryant one spot before the Kings.
“I know absolutely for a fact that we would’ve taken Kobe, and the only way that he wasn’t going to play for the Sacramento Kings was the Lakers swinging a trade, and they did it. Tellem knew that Geoff Petrie wasn’t going to back off like other teams. Kobe didn’t care what position he was drafted, he just wanted to go to the Lakers.”
Although they missed out on Bryant, the team landed sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic with their pick, and the rest is history.
Stojakovic finished as a three-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA selection with the Kings as he played seven full seasons with the team.
Still, while he went on to have a fantastic career, it is fascinating to think about how the entire Kobe Bryant situation could have played out if the team drafted him.
Would he have eventually played a game for the team? Could the Kings have become a solidified powerhouse in the NBA as the Lakers soon did?
It remains one of the biggest “what-if scenarios” for the team in its history, but things ultimately worked out for both sides, even if the Lakers got the better end of it.