Kobe Bryant's Legendary Predraft Lakers Workout Discussed by Jerry West, More

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2021

FILE - In this March 21, 2019, file photo, former Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant listens to a question as he meets with students at Andrew Hamilton School in Philadelphia.  The Southern California sports academy previously co-owned by the late Kobe Bryant has retired his “Mamba” nickname and rebranded itself nearly four months after the basketball icon's death in a helicopter crash.  The Thousand Oaks-based facility announced Tuesday, May 12, 2020, it would return to its original name of Sports Academy and retire the “Mamba” name to the rafters.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Kobe Bryant's workout with the Lakers ahead of the 1996 NBA draft is one of the most seminal moments of the all-time great's career, a moment that reshaped the outlook for his career and the Lakers franchise for two decades. 

It was also a wake-up call for Michael Cooper. 

"I thought I was going to go out there and whip his ass, to tell you the truth. That was my thought. I was like, 'OK, look, I don't give a f--k how old I am, I'm not gonna let some f--king guy do anything,'" Cooper told ESPN's David Fleming. "And boy was I brought back to reality quick. In a hurry I found out that 40 and 17 don't go together on the court."

Cooper was one of the most decorated defenders in NBA history, a 1987 Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time All-Defensive selection. Kobe's fundamental destruction of Cooper is a story of legend that helped convince Jerry West to push for a trade that would ultimately land Bryant in Los Angeles.

"He just had that 'It' factor. LeBron James, Magic Johnson, people like that, they just have it. Kobe had it. You could see it. You could feel it," West said.

At the time of the workout, Jerry West only hosted Bryant as a favor to agent Arn Tellem. The Lakers had the No. 24 pick in that year's draft, and they weren't viewed as a contender for Bryant, who was widely expected to go somewhere in the lottery. West, like much of the NBA, was also hesitant about drafting a guard out of high school.

Kobe instantly won him over with his workout and demeanor on the floor, dominating Cooper in a way that left The Logo determined to bring Bryant to Los Angeles. 

"You watch a workout like that—there isn't much of a choice to think of anything else," West said. "I remember saying to Jerry Buss, our owner, I said, 'Jerry, he's the best player in the draft.' I meant it. I would have taken Kobe as the first player in the draft. It was a no-brainer. He had this—forget desire—he just didn't want to stop playing. Ever."

After the first workout, the Lakers brought Kobe in for a less-publicized one against Mississippi State star Dontae' Jones, who went as the 21st pick in the 1996 draft. Bryant once again dominated before leaving Los Angeles and returning to Philadelphia, with West then working with Tellem to arrange a way to get Kobe in purple and gold.

For the next two decades, Kobe then redefined what it meant to be a Laker, winning five titles, collecting one league and two Finals MVPs, earning 18 All-Star, 15 All-NBA and 12 All-Defensive selections and leading the league in scoring twice.