Jerry West-Kobe Bryant relationship, explained: How Lakers legends became friends after NBA Draft workout
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Jerry West-Kobe Bryant relationship, explained: How Lakers legends became friends after NBA Draft workout

As two of the greatest talents for the greatest brand in basketball history — the Lakers — Jerry West and Kobe Bryant were practically royalty within NBA circles.

West was the wily veteran, a man who had already captured basketball’s grandest prize, not to mention a slew of other accomplishments, during his playing days. West had shared the floor with Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and countless other Hall of Famers. He always looked at home in those contests, even when they ended in defeat — West is still the only player in league history to take home the Finals MVP prize in a losing effort.

“The Logo” was a wizard during his time in Tinseltown. His 1974 retirement left a gaping gash in Los Angeles’ lineup, as West was on the sport’s few transcendent backcourt scorers. A little more than 20 years after his departure, the franchise would finally find a worthy replacement in Bryant.

Here’s what you need to know about West, Bryant and the circumstances that tied the two together.

Jerry West-Kobe Bryant friendship, explained

West and Bryant were about as thick as thieves for a pair of men born 40 years apart in vastly different living situations. West vouched for Bryant from the start, witnessing his greatness first-hand while attending Bryant’s vaunted workout with the franchise prior to the 1996 NBA Draft.

West ran Bryant through the gauntlet. The then-17 year old was equipped with little more than his childhood basketball and a ruthless streak on the court. Tasked with facing off against Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Cooper — a former Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time All-Defensive team pick — Bryant had his work cut out for him.

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— how old I am, I’m not gonna let some f— guy do anything.” Cooper told ESPN in 2021. “And boy was I brought back to reality quick.”

Bryant torched Cooper, putting on such an impressive clinic that tape recordings of the clash have seemingly vanished. It left quite the impression on West,

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

West moved heaven and earth to acquire the precocious youngster. You probably know the story by now: The Lakers sent Vlade Divac to the Hornets in exchange for Bryant’s draft rights.

The pair’s relationship only flourished in the years to come. West and his wife, Karen, kept watch of Bryant throughout his early career, serving as “surrogate” parents while he came into his own as an adult.

That friendship flourished even as West grew old and grey; it was West who convinced the Black Mamba not to sign with the Clippers and Grizzlies despite the Bryant’s best wishes.

Even after Bryant’s tragic death in 2020, his influence on his mentor was scrawled across the walls of West’s West Virginia home. It makes sense why: it was Bryant’s refuge, as well.

“His influence in this house has always been here because he was in my house a lot,” West told The New York Times in 2022. “Watching him grow up, watching this insatiable desire to be the best. When he gets to the top of the mountain, all of a sudden, he’s climbing another mountain. And then it’s all gone.”