Kobe Bean Bryant was drafted in the 1996 NBA offseason, in a draft that most considered to be a six-player draft, aka the “Super Six of ’96”.
Kobe was not one of those top six.
It is now considered to be one of, if not the, best draft classes of all time. Players like Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic and many more. There were 10 players in that draft named to an All-Star team.
The Celtics had the ninth pick in that draft, but they traded up to number six and selected Antoine Walker. That was seen as a great win, since Walker was supposed to be one of those six guys I mentioned.
“We worked our butts off to get in a position where we could be in the top six,” Celtics’ director of basketball operations ML Carr explained. “My eye was on Antoine because I knew that watching him-[and] Kentucky had just come off a championship year in college-[that with] his skill set, he could be an incredible impact player.”
At that time, Carr was mostly in charge of all basketball decisions, as well as being head coach, with Red Auerbach holding a job mainly because of sentimental reasons.
However, Red did turn over the final say in the draft to Carr, who was one of the few that had seen Kobe work out. In one of the many interviews Carr has done since the draft, he described Bryant’s workout as “unbelievable” and said Kobe went through the various drills “in flying colors.”
Jan Volk, the Celtics GM at the time, compared watching Kobe to watching Michael Jordan, and in his interview with Carr, he was said to have a “hunger to be” in talks with the greats, like MJ, Magic, Bird, etc. Carr says that Kobe “wanted to be one of those guys that would be talked about in that same breath.”
And since then, Kobe transformed himself into one of the best 10 players in NBA history.
So why didn’t the Celtics take him with the ninth pick? He aced everything the Celtics threw at him, both on and off the court. Pretty much everything Carr said during any interviews were positives about Kobe, how much he would’ve fit their culture, how well he shot, pretty much anything and everything.
The main concern was how would his game translate to the NBA.
He hadn’t gone to college, and backcourt players coming straight from high school scared most front offices. Any high school players skipping college was questionable in the eyes of front offices, but at least big men usually had the body to make it in the NBA. Kobe wasn’t exactly a big man.
There were just too many questions, such as: Would Kobe be able to get his shot off against quicker defenders? How would he handle the highs and lows of the long NBA season? Should our 33-win team take a big chance on a high school kid instead of trying to get one of the “Super Six”?
In the end, it was the supposed security of the six that outweighed the high risk, high reward Kobe.
Boston traded Eric Montross and the ninth pick to the Mavericks for the sixth pick in 1996 and Mavs’ 1997 first-round pick, which also was number 6. At the time, it was seen as a great deal, and most people would’ve thought they were crazy if they didn’t accept the deal.
Kobe was selected with the 13th pick of the draft, by the Hornets, who immediately traded him to the Lakers for center Vlade Divac. Kobe, of course, turned into an all-time great and an international icon for the game of basketball.
But Kobe to the Celtics is undoubtedly the greatest What if? of all time.
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