Jerry West Says He Told Kobe Bryant Not to Join Clippers Under Any Circumstances

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2020

FILE - In this May 29, 2008 file photo, Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant gives basketball great Jerry West a shoulder rub after the Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference basketball finals in Los Angeles. When asked about the latest honor in a long series of enshrinements and accolades since West hung up his sneakers in 1974, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers guard and executive seemed to be anticipating his trip to Kansas City to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame with something between cautious excitement and outright dread. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)
Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West revealed Tuesday that he advised Kobe Bryant against signing with the Clippers, telling him "you can't play for" former owner Donald Sterling.

"I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers, and I've never really mentioned this to anyone, he was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I'm now involved with as a consultant. And I told him, 'Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this,'" West said on Inside the NBA.

"And he was mad at everyone, the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said 'Kobe you can't go play with the Clippers. You can't play for that owner, period.' We had two conversations about it."

Bryant, who was one of nine people who died Sunday in a helicopter crash which also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, previously revealed he was "very close" to signing with the Clippers as a free agent in 2004. At the time, Bryant was a free agent, and his relationship with Shaquille O'Neal had deteriorated to the point they no longer wanted to play together.

The Lakers traded O'Neal to the Miami Heat on July 14. Bryant re-signed with the Lakers a day later.

Legendary broadcaster Ralph Lawler said last year that Kobe verbally committed to signing with the Clippers in 2004 before returning to the Lakers. He'd finish his career having played 20 seasons in a Lakers uniform. 

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"They made their pitch to Kobe and it was a very strong one because it seemed apparent to everyone at that point that Kobe and Shaq just could no longer co-exist," Lawler told Andrew Grief of the Los Angeles Times. "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?'

"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.'"

In 2004, West was the Memphis Grizzlies' general manager after he left the Lakers. His advice to Bryant came as a result of their personal friendship, which developed after West orchestrated the 1996 trade to bring him to the Lakers.

Sterling was banned from the NBA for life in 2014 after recordings of him using racist epithets, including some directed at Magic Johnson, were leaked to the media.

The franchise was a bastion of turmoil during Sterling's tenure, shuffling through coaches, making poor personnel decisions and even battling with the NBA league office. The Clippers recorded just six seasons with winning percentages at or above .500 during Sterling's tenure from 1981-2014.

Bryant heeding West's advice ultimately paid off. The Lakers won two more championships with Bryant playing a starring role, while the Clippers franchise is yet to win a title.  

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