Back in 2004, Kobe Bryant seriously considered leaving the Los Angeles Lakers for the Clippers. This isn’t new information for NBA fans, but what may raise some eyebrows is just how close this came to becoming a reality. In an appearance on the All the Smoke podcast, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss revealed that Bryant once showed up to a game wearing Clippers colors.
“Very subtle,” Buss recalls. “I can see he likes challenges, and that would’ve been a huge thing. I think that [Bryant’s departure] was something that was very possible.”
Bryant was mulling over his options at a time where it became clear that he and Shaquille O’Neal could no longer coexist. Kobe was reportedly interested in playing for the Clippers because the franchise was continually flirting with the idea of moving to Anaheim. Aside from higher attendance numbers at the home arena of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, the Honda Center a.k.a. The Pond, the Clippers were motivated by their desire to get out from under the Lakers’ shadow in L.A., and establish an identity of their own.
It appeared that Kobe was ready to do the same. After Bryant’s death, former Laker and current Clippers consultant Jerry West revealed that he spoke with Kobe upon hearing that the Black Mamba had his mind made up about joining the Lake Show’s city rivals, and implored him to not play for then-owner Donald Sterling.
Legendary Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler told the Los Angeles Times that Kobe even verbally committed to the Clippers in 2004. “Then it’s time for Kobe to excuse himself and go and Donald Sterling walks him to the door expressing concern. ‘Is this really going to happen?,’” Lawler said. “Kobe turned to him and—this is an exact quote that I’ve had repeated to me by multiple people—he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a Clipper.’ So he walked out the door and [the Clippers] are all high-fiving each other thinking, ‘By God, we’ve done it.’”
Kobe ended up staying with the Lakers, signing a seven-year deal with the team, one day after Shaq was dealt to the Miami Heat.