Reynolds Remembers: The Night Sacramento Planned to Draft Kobe Bryant

Jerry Reynolds is basketball royalty.

Born in French Lick, Indiana — the same town as Larry Bird — the 76-year-old Reynolds has served in nearly every capacity during his time in Sacramento.

The French Lick native attended Springs Valley High School in Indiana and played college ball at Vincennes University where he also started his coaching career in 1967.

Beginning as an assistant coach and developing into a head coach, general manager, adviser and broadcaster, there isn’t a greater embodiment of being Sacramento Proud than the native Hoosier.

With his basketball knowledge infinite and stories to last a lifetime, “Reynolds Remembers” are tales from Jerry, by Jerry, for the fans.

So, let’s hippity-hop to the barber shop with the legend himself.


Optimism was really high with the Kings in 1996 — we were coming off a tough playoff series against the Seattle Supersonics and held the 14th pick in the NBA Draft.

In the Draft, I thought there was a ton of star potential. Even at No. 14, I thought we could get a really good player. It was clear early on in the process that Geoff Petrie — General Manager and President of Basketball Operations — was ready to take a chance and draft a high school player by the name of Kobe Bryant.

At that time, high school players weren't going that high in the draft as they did a little 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.

The New Jersey Nets, who had the No. 8 pick, said they were taking Kobe. Being fairly close to the Philadelphia area, they were well aware of the dynamic talent that Kobe possessed. But, because they couldn’t sign him, they didn’t draft him.

Regardless of the threats, Geoff was going to draft Kobe. If he ever wanted to play in the NBA, whoever drafts him would have his rights. Geoff was going to make the gutsy move — because of Kobe’s camp refusal to play in Sacramento — if he was there.

Geoff made it clear to his agent that we are taking Kobe. Tellem certainly made it clear to Geoff (and other teams) that under no circumstances would Kobe Bryant play for any of them. We don't care if he played in Italy, we were going to draft him and keep his draft rights so that when he plays in the NBA, it will be for the Sacramento Kings.

That was when Charlotte, who had the No. 13 pick, traded that pick to the Lakers. This allowed them to get in front of us, which Kobe’s agent knew they had to do to get the future Hall of Famer. They would have to get in front of the Kings, which they did.

Kobe worked out for other teams but he wouldn’t for us. I was impressed with Geoff on a lot of levels for many years, but being from the Philadelphia area, he really tapped into his people and trusted that this kid is special. This is the one.

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.

Vlade [Divac] went to Charlotte and had some really good years. He played on a couple of 50-win teams and people tend to forget that. Vlade had a lot of success with the Lakers, and then Charlotte and then with the Kings. He was a true winner.

Of course, we were thrilled with who we ended up drafting in Peja Stojakovic. Peja became a three-time All-Star, an NBA champion and certainly one of the great shooters in the history of the game. Peja didn’t come over immediately, he stayed in Europe for another year, but Geoff Petrie was well aware of that when we drafted him.

As is with many Drafts over the course of NBA history, a moment here or there could really change the trajectory of a franchise, and it has never been more true than with that legendary 1996 Draft class.


To read more stories from the Reynolds Remembers series, click here.