How Jerry West used cigarette smoking to eventually land Kobe Bryant.
This story starts in the 1989 draft with international prospect Vlade Divac. The big man was projected to go anywhere between 12-20 in the NBA draft. The Lakers had the 25th pick in the draft, meaning that Divac was supposed to be gone by the time they picked. Jerry West (the Lakers GM) began to strategize about drafting Divac.
His solution was genius, West simply asked Divac to smoke as many cigarettes as possible. Teams would be scared away by his constant smoking. Vlade was seen lighting up a cigarette just as he got off the plane for the first time in America. When draft night came, Divac could once again be seen as the constant stream of nicotine backstage in the greenroom. The ploy worked as the big man fell to 26th, right into the laps of the Lakers. TNT's Craig Sager knows West played a part in Divac's green room smoking and his slipping to L.A. at 26. Sager commented "Rumor was that Vlade was smoking when he got off the plane," Sager told USA Today, "and Jerry told him to keep smoking."
Fast forward to the 1996 draft. The Lakers held the 24th pick in the draft that year. High school prodigy Kobe Bryant worked out for the Lakers and Jerry West saw something phenomenal. West got together with Bryant’s people and told them that he would surely take the 17 year old in the draft. The only problem, Bryant was supposed to go anywhere from 9-15 in the draft. The Lakers Jerry West dealt his starting center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick (which would become Kobe Bryant).
The NBA Finals are among us, we look back at 20 events that didn't happen but could have changed NBA history (had they happened). Each of these none moves had several future implications and would change the fate of the NBA.
Clyde Drexler to the Sonics 1995
In February 1995, Drexler was traded to Houston to play with his college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon. The two ended up winning a title that year over the Orlando Magic. But just weeks earlier, a deal sending Drexler from Portland to Seattle was close to happening. The Trail Blazers wanted Kendall Gill from Seattle. Seattle would have paired Drexler with a forming dynamic duo in Payton & Kemp. The Sonics would go on to reach the Finals in 1996, would Drexler have been enough for Seattle to take down the Bulls?
Isiah Thomas to Knicks 1994
During the 1993-1994 season the New York Knicks tried to trade for Isiah thomas. The Knicks had offered Tony Campbell, Tim McCormick, and a 1994 first-round draft pick. The deal would have given New York a point guard who has led a team to a championship. Despite being 32 years old, Thomas had averaged 14.5 points and 9 assists at the time of the offer. The deal fell through because Thomas had expressed a desire to end his career with the Pistons, and he had business interests in Michigan. Thomas was intrigued by the opportunity of playing in New York City, but decided it would be best to remain with the Pistons. The Knicks would go on to the 1994 NBA Finals where there subpar guard play lead to a series loss to the Houston Rockets. Could Isiah have made the difference? Probably but we'll never know.
James Worthy and Byron Scott for Mark Aguirre 1986
Before Mark Aguirre would help Pistons to back to back championships he was nearly a member of the Lakers. In an 1986 deadline deal the Lakers proposed sending James Worthy and Bryron Scott to Dallas for Mark Aguirre and Roy Tarpley. However Jerry West put a stop on this deal, he threatened to quit if Lakers owner Jerry Buss went through with the deal. Big Game James ended up staying put, helping the Lakers to the 1987 and 1988 NBA title.
Doctor J & Pistol Pete 1972
Julius Erving signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks before the 1972 draft when he discovered his former agent Steve Arnold happened to work for the ABA's Virginia Squires, making him sign for a low paying contract. Erving enjoyed his brief time with Atlanta: "It really was one of the joys of my life to play with Pete, to be in training camp with him. We used to stay after practice and play one-on-one. We would play for dinner after practice." On September 23, 1972, Erving had 28 points and 18 rebounds in 42 minutes for Atlanta in a 112-99 win over the Kentucky. A week later he scored 32 points in a 120-106 win over the Carolina Cougars. Erving says, "I remember those exhibition games. I would just grab a rebound, throw it out to Pete and get on the wing. Pete would always find you. He got his points, but he loved to pass the ball. He could hit you in full stride in a place where you could do something with the ball. That was a measure of his greatness." The NBA fined Atlanta $25,000 per game for Erving's two Hawks appearances because Milwaukee owned his NBA rights--in a sense, the Hawks had "stolen" Erving from teams in both the ABA and NBA. A panel ruled that until the case was settled, Erving was contractually bound to the Squires. Erving returned to Virginia and led the ABA in scoring in 1972-73 (31.9 ppg).
Duncan to Boston 1997
In 1997 the Boston Celtics had the best chances of lading the number one pick entering the lottery. Following the lottery the Spurs jumped ahead of Boston and took the number one pick. Duncan instead would go on to be San Antonio's corner stone, leading the spurs to 5 NBA championships.
Nowitzki to Milwaukee 1998
In 1998 Dallas made a draft day deal with the Milwaukee Bucks to aquire Dirk Nowitzki (9th pick) for the 6th pick (Robert "Tracktor' Taylor). The rest is history, Taylor ended his career with a 4.8 ppg and 3.7 rpg average. Dirk Nowitzki went on to become a top 50 player of all time, leading Dallas to the 2011 NBA crown. Milwaukee could have added Nowitzki to a team that already included Ray Allen, Glen Robinson and Sam Cassell.
McHale traded to Mavericks 1988
During the 1988-1989 season the Mavericks proposed a deal sending Sam Perkins and Shreimpf to Boston in return for Kevin McHale. Boston Gm Red Arbach ended up keeping McHale.
Kobe Bryant to the Bulls 2007
Kobe Bryant to the Bulls for Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Jokim Noah was a big time rumor in 2007. Kobe insisted on Deng staying in Chicago to make the deal work, however Los Angeles wanted Deng included in the deal. Kobe realized he would be in similar situations if he chose to leave for Chicago. He stayed in Los Angeles where he would win two more NBA Championships.
Duncan, McGrady and Hill 2000
In the summer of 2000 the Orlando Magic signed both Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. Orlando had just enough money left to offer Tim Duncan a max contract. Meanwhile, David Robinson, on vacation from a long season receives a call from Spurs’ GM, RC Buford informing him that Duncan is meeting with Orlando. Popovich who is also on the call, tells Robinson to stay put, confidently stating that he and RC have it under control. (It is believed Robinson’s last minute pitch to Duncan was what kept Duncan in San Antonio). The trio would have rivaled the construction of Miami's big three in 2011. Instead Hill would deal with chronic injuries and McGrady would fend for himself on an empty roster. Duncan would go on to win 4 more championships in San Antonio.
Kidd to San Antonio 2003
Jason Kidd was close to signing with San Antonio in July 2003. This just weeks after the Spurs defeated the Nets in the Finals. R.C. Buford, the Spurs GM, made visits to New Jersey during the regular season to sit prominently near the court, his presence noticed by Kidd, but shockingly not by the Nets front office. Then, the Spurs laid out a lavish itinerary for Kidd, escorted around the city by Tim Duncan. A Nets employee commented "San Antonio rolled out the red carpet and Jersey had nothing for him. We underestimated how much he wanted to be recruited, and probably got a little arrogant in thinking that he wouldn't leave. We dropped the ball." Kidd's ex wife, who thought she had a TV career in New York and didn't want to sacrifice the top US market for the 38th biggest market. The Nets then signed an ailing Alonzo Mourning. These two reasons were enough for Kidd to resign with New Jersey. Kidd eventually got his ring with the Maverick in 2011 but it is tough not to imagine what could have been.
McGrady & Iverson 2000
Heres a passage from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000:"An NBA source confirmed last night that the Sixers placed another call yesterday to the Toronto Raptors to see if they were willing to part with swingman Tracy McGrady and a No. 1 pick for Hughes." The Sixers insisted on getting a first round pick with McGrady to complete the deal, as a result the deal fell through. Instead McGrady paired with an injury prone Hill, and had a few tough seasons in Orlando. Philadelphia went on to trade hughes to the Warriors and make an appearance in the 2001 NBA Finals. Could McGrady have pushed the Sixers over the top in 2001?
Larry Bird to the Pacers for Chuck Person and a Draft Pick 1988
In 1988, the Indiana Pacers tried to trade for state legend Larry Bird. The Pacers offered Chuck Pearson and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. However Red Auerbach turned down the offer. The Pacers treated the rejection as a blessing in disguise, saying, "We made our pitch, but I'd have to say we were very fortunate that they (the Celtics) didn't accept it." The pacers ended up using the 2nd overall pick in the draft for Rick Smits.
Scottie Pippen for Shawn Kemp 1994
According to Seattle Coach George Karl, the Bulls offered to trade Scottie Pippen for Shawn Kemp straight up in 1994. Seattle turned the deal down, Karl cited Kemp's bright future as the reason for the rejected trade. Pippen didn't go anywhere, Jordan came back, and the Bulls won 3 more championships. Shawn Kemp stayed in Seattle and had some memorable years but ultimately would flame out early and be traded to Cleveland.
James Harden stays with OKC 2012
In the summer of 2012 a deal was made after OKC GM Sam Presti began to worry that they would not have enough money to keep their developing star James Harden. So Presti shopped around the league and made a deal with Houston. Rockets would recieve James Harden for two draft picks, Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin. Piror to trading Harden, the Thunder lost to Miami in the 2012 NBA Championship. The Thunder have not been back to the finals since the trade. In 2015 James Harden finished 2nd in MVP voting to Stephen Curry.
Ray Allen & Kevin Garnett team on Minnesota 1996
Stephon Marbury was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks with the fourth overall pick, and Allen was taken fifth by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Later the two teams traded the two players for each other, with the Bucks also receiving a future first-round pick. Marbury spent only three seasons with Minnesota after he demanded a max contract. T-Wolves would not have had that problem had they gone instead with Ray Allen. Allen would go on to become the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers made. We got to see how good Allen and Garnett could have been together as they teamed up on the Celtics and won it all in 2008.
Carmelo to Pistons 2003
In the 2003 NBA Draft the Pistons would be selecting 2nd overall because of a trade two seasons prior. With NCAA Champion Carmelo Anthony on the board the Pistons chose to select foreign project Darko Milicic. While the move was heavily criticized, Detroit went on to win the 2004 NBA Championship. While many think that Anthony was the right pick, he could have had negative effects on the Pistons chemistry. Causing them to never win a championship in 2004.
Dr j & Kareem 1972
Milwaukee could have been the team of the 70s and possibly early 80s. In 1972, the Milwaukee Bucks had the 12th pick in the NBA draft. They would use their pick to select Julius Erving. Dr. J would of course choose to instead play for the ABA and the Virginia Spires averaging 27, 15, 4. Erving would go on to three ABA MVPs and two ABA championships. He would eventually join the NBA after the merger and finally win an NBA title in 1983 as part of the 76ers.
What could have been, though? Imagine Dr. J and Kareem on the same team for the majority of the 70s? They were two MVP candidates that were unlike any other player in the league at the time. You have to wonder if Erving joins the NBA in 1972. The Bucks won 60 games without him. Also, although he was on his way out of the league, does anyone else get excited about the Kareem, Dr. J and the Big O on the same team?
Michael Jordan & Clyde Drexler to Houston for Ralph Sampson 1984
A big 3 of Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Trade talks began to surface for the 1984 NBA Rookie of the Year Ralph Sampson. The Portland Trail Blazers offered Clyde Drexler and the Number 2 Pick in the 1984 Draft for Sampson. The Trail Blazers wanted a center and instead of taking a chance on an unknown player (Sam Bowie). The Rockets would've given up somebody already proven for an unknown player. If the trade were to go down, Houston would've had the No. 1 and 2 picks in the 1984 Draft. They probably would've selected Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Perhaps forming a dynasty not seen since the likes of Bill Russells Celtics.
Barkley to LA 1992
A fed-up Charles Barkley entered the 1992 season dying to be traded from Philadelphia. Around February Barkley got news that he was headed to LA.. The Lakers were sending James Worthy and Elden Cambell in exchange for Charles. The Sixers ended up going back the deal. Barkley remarked"The Sixers back out. It was going crazy for two weeks so I knew it would come down to Portland, [the] Lakers or Phoenix," he continued. "So I get a call from my agent one morning and he said, 'Philly has traded you to the Lakers." "I went to lunch and started drinking," Barkley said. "Three hours later I get a phone call from my agent saying the Sixers backed out of the deal." Barkley would have to play in the game that night slightly intoxicated from lunch. The deal fell through and a few months later Barkley would be a member of the Suns.
Moses Malone Portland Trailblazers - ABA Dispersal Draft 1976
When the ABA and NBA merged in 1976, the Nuggets, Nets, Pacers and Spurs would be added to the NBA from the ABA. The St Louis and Kentucky players would become available via a dispersal draft. Portland used the No. 2 pick to grab Maurice Lucas and, three spots later, chose Moses Malone. The Blazers with Bill Walton at center, traded the 21-year-old Malone to Buffalo in October for a 1978 first-round pick that would become Mychal Thompson. A week later, the Braves sent Malone to Houston for two future first-rounders. Portland used Lucas, Walton and a strong supporting cast to beat Philadelphia in the 1977 Finals for its lone NBA title. Malone, though, became a three-time MVP, a 12-time All-Star and was named Finals MVP when he led the 76ers to the 1983 championship.