What’s Weirder Kobe on Celtics or MJ at Duke?
by Chris Chase, USA TODAY Sports
Two recent tweets reminded the online world that the landscape of basketball could have looked vastly different if not for two decisions made 16 year apart.
On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant tweeted a picture of himself working out for the Boston Celtics before the 1996 draft. One day later, Darren Rovell of ESPN tweeted an oft-circulated photo of the letter Mike Krzyzewski sent Michael Jordan in 1980 upon learning that the high-school star would be attending North Carolina.
Kobe in Celtics green? MJ as a hero of the Cameron Crazies? Both feel so foreign that the possibility is hard to fathom. And there’s a reason for that.
Despite the photographic evidence of Celtics interest and Blue Devil recruitment, the odds of either of those scenarios coming true were slim, at best.
Kobe was drafted No. 13 by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics had the No. 6 pick in that draft and used it to take Kentucky’s Antoine Walker. At the time, Bryant was just the second high-school player selected since 1975. (Kevin Garnett was drafted one year earlier.) Boston could have used the pick on him, but it would have been a stretch.
There was even less chance of Jordan landing in Durham.
Dean Smith and his assistants, which included a young coach named Roy Williams, were the first school to pursue Jordan. It wasn’t until Williams says he “made a mistake” and convinced Jordan to attend a national basketball camp that other teams saw MJ’s potential and began their pursuit. By all accounts, they were chasing a young man whose mind was made up. UNC had been first and Jordan reportedly never seriously considered going elsewhere.
More importantly, Coach K was only months into his job in Durham when Jordan decided to attend UNC. He was a young, unproven coach taking over a private school that had experienced recent success after a lean decade. Coach K wasn’t yet Coach K. Dean Smith had already been Dean Smith for a long while.
We still haven’t answered our own question.
It’s an easy one. Kobe will forever … [For more on Kobe on Celtics or MJ at Duke: Which would have been weird?, click here.]