Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan on the same team? According to Kobe, it almost happened back in the early 2000s, when Jordan was on his last legs in Washington, playing for a middling Wizards team that he part-owned. Bryant was unhappy in Los Angeles and says he almost left the Lakers to join forces with MJ in DC. For real. Can you imagine?
The story, from Michael Lee of The Washington Post:
When Kobe Bryant made his first public comments after signing a two-year extension in November 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers were in Washington and the future Hall of Famer held a news conference at Verizon Center while a Washington Wizards banner hung behind him and a microphone with the Wizards’ “dc” logo rested in front of him. The image gave Wizards fans a chance to indulge a fantasy in which Bryant collected championship rings a few blocks from the White House instead of Los Angeles.
Very few know that this seemingly laughable fantasy was nearly reality: More than a decade ago, Bryant wanted to get away from Los Angeles, and the team he wanted to join was the Wizards, where he would join forces with his mentor Michael Jordan.
Those plans evaporated when then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin parted ways with Jordan in 2003, a year before Bryant became a free agent, but as Wizards fans pine over the idea of Kevin Durant coming to Washington as a free agent, the near-miss that was Kobe-to-DC finally can be shared.
“That’s true,” Bryant confirmed recently. “A long time ago? Yeah.”
The Wizards won’t have to worry about facing Bryant Tuesday at Staples Center. Bryant’s season — and possibly, career — is over after the 19-year-veteran tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder last week during a loss to New Orleans. Before he was forced to contemplate another protracted recovery or even his basketball future, Bryant passed Jordan for third on the NBA’s career scoring list. That historic achievement continued to find Bryant cast under the immense shadow of the player considered the best to ever play the game.
But during the height of his feud with then-teammate Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000s, Bryant wanted to be under Jordan in a different capacity . Bryant revealed recently he felt pushed to ponder a future away from the purple and gold banners after O’Neal – a three-time Finals most valuable player from 2000-02 – went too far.
“The challenge had been thrown down upon me, of not being able to win without Shaq. A public challenge never really bothered me too much, but he made a couple of comments as well. I think he called me Penny Hardaway Part 2 or something like that. So that’s what [ticked] me off,” Bryant said. “Then it was like, ‘Listen, you know the step back that I took to help us win championships. Let’s not get [expletive] confused. I can dominate on my own. I decided to stay here and win championships and sacrifice MVPs and scoring titles and all that stuff.’ So once that was said, it was like a line in the sand now.”