Jerry West and Kobe Bryant
Lakers then-General Manager Jerry West and then-head coach Del Harris pose with Kobe Bryant after acquiring him in 1996.
(Juan Ocampo/Getty Images)

West Reflects on Kobe's Legacy

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Kobe Bryant gazed up at the Golden State videoboard on Thursday, watching as the man responsible for making him a Laker paid tribute to the retiring legend.

Warriors executive and Lakers great Jerry West spoke at length toward Bryant, who played his final game in Oakland that day.

“That was a tough one for me to get through,” Bryant said after the game. “That got me a little bit.”

Then the Lakers’ General Manager, West was the one chiefly responsible for trading all-star center Vlade Divac to Charlotte in exchange for the kid from Lower Merion High School.

“It’s almost impossible to think back 20 years ago,” West said before Friday’s game. “ … Something very unique happened to the Lakers organization that year that I think changed the course of a franchise that had been very good, but put it back to having incredible success for many years.

“We had a chance to work out a 17-year-old kid. Everybody talks about the legendary workouts. … But for someone that age, it was remarkable the skill, the love he had for the game and the desire he to excel.”

West described acquiring Bryant as “a turning point for this franchise.” The two had a father-son type of relationship, as Bryant would visit West’s house for dinner and also receive pointers from the Lakers legend at the Forum.

“Kobe kind of transcended some of the players we see today with the way he played the game,” West said. “Particularly with the enormous desire, toughness and never-quit attitude. One of the things I admired most about him … was his ability to play when other players simply would not play.”

Bryant recalled the early days of sitting in Magic Johnson’s locker at the Forum, while he and West talked hoops. That connection continued to evolve, as West never bothered to hide his feelings around the teenager.

“He used to rib me all the time,” Bryant said. “He’d say, ‘If I played against you, I’d do this to you. I’d do that to you. I’d beat you up, you little, scrawny kid.’”

Now — two decades after West bet on him — that scrawny kid is halfway through with his final season.

“He was a showman, but he also was a winner,” West said. “And he has left a legacy throughout the world. Millions of people love this guy, and millions of people will miss what he was able to accomplish in his career.”

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