As his NBA career draws to an end, relive the chatter surrounding Kobe Bryant as the 1996 Draft drew near
POSTED: Apr 11, 2016 1:05 PM ET
Opinions of Kobe Bryant were mixed entering the 1996 Draft. Was the teenager prepared for the rigors of the NBA?
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"I, Kobe Bryant...have decided to skip college and take my talents to the NBA."
With those words, a precocious 17-year-old phenom from the Philadelphia suburbs launched what would become one of the most decorated careers in NBA history, spanning two decades and a Hall of Fame resume bursting with accolades:
• Five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers
It was less about what Bryant accomplished than how he did it, with a singularity of purpose that impressed even his role model and mentor, the ferociously competitive Michael Jordan.
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But whereas Jordan was an artist, polished and stylish enough to make his success look almost effortless, Bryant -- who will play his final game Wednesday against the Utah Jazz (10:30 ET, ESPN) -- stubbornly hammered away at his objectives until something broke. Often the opposition, sometimes his own teammates, and now his own body after nearly 60,000 total minutes in the regular season and playoffs.
It's telling that Bryant feuded with the two most important figures in his professional career, Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson.
But as the following collection of quotes will attest, Bryant never wavered from the goal he laid out all those years ago: To wring every last drop of success out of his career that he possibly could, obstacles be damned.
Reaction to Bryant's early entrance out of Lower Merion High School was mixed, with no less an authority than NBA scouting director Marty Blake stating flatly that Bryant wasn't ready for a professional career. Such skepticism didn't deter Bryant or admirers like Lakers general manager Jerry West, whose ardor was sealed after a pre-Draft workout that has become the stuff of legend.
"I set (the NBA) as a goal and now I'm here. I'm very confident in my choice. It's the opportunity of a lifetime. It's time for me to go out and seize it while I'm still young. It's a great challenge. I'm not thinking about being a superstar, taking all the shots. That's not me. I'm looking at trying to learn from the players. There's a lot they can teach me from the first player down to the 12th. I don't know if I can reach the stars or the moon, or whatever. If I fall off the cliff for the time being, so be it. I'll still be in there learning.'' -- Kobe Bryant, Philly.com 1996
"He's kidding himself. Sure he'd like to come out. I'd like to be a movie star. He's not ready." -- NBA scouting director Marty Blake, Los Angeles Times, 1996
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"Any team that doesn't take him No. 1 is making a mistake. That's exactly how I feel. He's going to be a killer in the NBA. I can't wait for people all over the country to see him on a regular basis.'' -- Bryant's uncle, John "Chubby" Cox, Philly.com, 1996
"I think (Bryant's early entry) is a total mistake. Garnett was the best high school player I ever saw, and I wouldn't have advised him to jump to the NBA. And Kobe is no Kevin Garnett." -- Boston Celtics director of basketball development Jon Jennings, Sports Illustrated, 1996
"He's borderline sensational. You like to use basic scouting principles, and he passes with flying colors. He's a once-in-a-blue-moon type athlete. He's way beyond his years in coordination, maturity. That alone makes him a prospect." -- Orlando Magic general manager John Gabriel, Los Angeles Times, 1996
"My people felt he was a great high school player. We're not ready to say all these high school players are going to develop in the NBA. I think if you look at Kevin Garnett, he rose up to it. Maybe Bryant will too." -- Indiana Pacers general manager Donnie Walsh, Los Angeles Times, 1996
"Has questionable ball-handling skills. May not be ready for the rigors of the NBA life and does not have the body for it right now. Does not have a true position. Played all five in high school and didn't perfect any one of the five. Is very good at all five but not great. Has been compared to Grant Hill, but some scouts feel he doesn't have the ball-handling and shooting skills to be an effective guard." -- pre-Draft scouting report
He just destroyed (Cooper). It was unbelievable. You're talking about Michael Cooper, one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game, and he just made him look silly.
– Raymond Ritter, on Kobe Bryant's pre-Draft workout
"It's easy to see why there is so much hype surrounding Bryant as he looks to make the unprecedented jump from high school to the pros. He has the perfect build for a shooting guard in the NBA, and I don't think I've ever seen a high school player as skilled as he is. He's incredibly mature and there's simply nothing he can't do on the court.
"In saying that, there are a number of concerns moving forward. For one, he falls in love with his jump shot, especially when things aren't going his way. He also has a tendency to lose his cool when he doesn't get the ball, the result of his undeniable competitiveness. Reigning that in will take a good coaching staff and level-headed teammates. He would likely fit better on a winning team, where there is structure and guidance." -- pre-Draft scouting report
"If you watched the workouts, you would say either this kid was taught to fool us in these workouts or he's ridiculous." -- former New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari, ESPN.com, 2011
"I called John Lucas once a week and asked how his guys were doing. (One time) I said, 'What about (North Carolina All-American Jerry Stackhouse)?' Lucas said, 'Well, he's the second best 2-guard in the gym.' So I asked who's the best, because I am trying to figure out in my mind who is (better than Stackhouse). Lucas says, 'Oh, Kobe kicks his ass every day.'" -- former New Jersey Nets GM John Nash recalling pre-draft workouts led by the ex-NBA player and head coach, ESPN.com, 2015
He's kidding himself. Sure he'd like to come out. I'd like to be a movie star. He's not ready.
– Legendary NBA scouting director Marty Blake, on Bryant
"I know I won, but it wasn't easy. There wasn't nothing easy about it. He came in and made a move and tried to just dunk on me. He wasn't coming and thinking about, 'I'm trying to lay it up.' He was coming with the intent to do damage." -- Stackhouse, "Boys Among Men", 2016
"He just destroyed (Cooper). It was unbelievable. You're talking about Michael Cooper, one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game, and he just made him look silly. It was breathtaking to watch a kid do that. He had no regard for this being Michael Cooper." -- former Lakers public relations staffer Raymond Ritter, recalling Bryant's pre-Draft workout with 1986-87 Defensive Player of the Year Michael Cooper, Bleacher Report, 2014
"Best workout I've ever seen. He's better than anybody we have on the team right now. Let's go." -- Lakers general manager Jerry West, as told by Lakers public relations director John Black, Bleacher Report 2014
"(Expletive), this kid can play." -- Cooper recalling his reaction to Bryant following that workout, Bleacher Report, 2014