As a teenager, I loved basketball; I lived and breathed it.
I still love playing and watching the game at all levels — high school, collegiate and professional. My passion for the game came so much from Los Angles Laker Kobe Bryant, who was in my mother’s homeroom for four years at Lower Merion High School from 1992-1996.
Even though I wasn’t alive when Kobe was playing in high school and was too young to watch the Kobe/Shaq three straight NBA championships in a row from 2000-2002, I still remember watching him for the first time in the 2009 playoffs. He won the MVP of the finals, just dominated the competition, scoring around 30 points per game along with his lock down defense.
I always watched “The Black Mamba” whenever I could because he was so good as a technical player, so determined on the court and so smart about the game that he made average players go beyond their expectations. I even believe that if Bryant became a bench player after he tore his Achilles in 2013 and stayed around six more years in the league just as a spot up three-point shooter, he would have passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA all-time scoring leader.
Nonetheless, Bryant is a very inspirational athlete to many people around the world, and he did it without even going to college — something you can’t do anymore. In order to qualify for the NBA draft today, you have to play college basketball for at least one year or play in an outside league after graduating high school (usually playing professionally in another country). I’m going to talk about the college Bryant would have probably played for if he didn’t go right into the draft. That place is where his father went to play ball in the 70’s, La Salle University.
In 2013, Bryant did an interview with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, talking about what college he would have committed to if he had the chance. Bryant said that he would have loved to play for Duke, who was recruiting him at the time saying, “I love [Duke Coach] Mike Krzyzewski." But during the Kimmel interview, he said he would have rather played for Dean Smith’s North Carolina team that had future NBA stars Vince Carter and Antwan Jamison, who in 1997 and 1998 made it to back-to-back NCAA final four appearances.
But I don’t think he would be able to do that because his father, Joe Bryant, was an assistant coach for La Salle at the time. In 1995, which was Bryant’s senior year at Lower Merion, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an article about him titled, “La Salle, NBA Top Kobe Bryant's List”. The article said, “According to his father, Joe Bryant, the La Salle assistant coach and former La Salle and 76ers player, Kobe is accepting no home visits from college coaches and visiting no college campuses. That makes it easy to deduce that next year, Kobe Bryant will play at La Salle or he will play in the NBA."
Joe Bryant, after starting for three years at La Salle, was drafted by the Sixers in 1975, then played for the San Diego Clippers in 1979 and then would go on to play in Italy from 1984 until 1991. The Bryant’s stayed in Italy until Joe retired in 1991, then moved back to America for Kobe to get an education at Bala Cynwyd Middle School, located in Lower Merion township, Pa. Joe Bryant felt that if Kobe were to go to a college far from home, he wouldn’t have secured a starting position. Joe Bryant knew he would have a position at La Salle, or go straight into the NBA and get drafted. Kobe was working out with the Sixers when he was in high school and later on with the Lakers. His father even said, "People tell me when you watch him playing with the pros, you can't tell the difference." All Joe Bryant cared about was that his son would have a secure position.
So I do think Bryant should have gone to La Salle, and here’s why. Even though Kobe was kicking ass in NBA training camp when he was in high school, I don’t think he was prepared to take that giant leap of being drafted. In his rookie season with the Laker's in 1996, Kobe only started 6 regular season games and was averaging 7.6 points a game. He wasn’t physically ready for the NBA and was away from his home and his family. During game five of the 1997 playoff conference semifinals against the Jazz, the rookie Bryant even shot four air balls.
Bryant didn’t start becoming the player he is known as today until the 98-99 season, which I think if he played at La Salle, he would have not only started but may have been one of the best college players in the country as a freshman. Bryant would have also worked with legendary La Salle head basketball coach Speedy Morris, who has the most wins in La Salle basketball history and was the first ever Division one basketball coach ever to coach both boys and girl’s teams. The problem was, after the departure of National College player of the year Lionel Simmons in 1990, Doug Overton in 1991 and Randy Woods in 1992, La Salle stopped being a powerhouse in college basketball (until 2013, where they made it to the Sweet Sixteen).
In the 1995 to 1996 season, La Salle finished 3-13, which probably had a lot to do with Kobe’s decision. The year after that, they were 5-13. So I think that Kobe may have helped the team do better, but in the end, I think he would only stay only a year or two at the most. I think Bryant just needed to build up his strength up for the NBA, because I think the man was mentally ready for the NBA. But if you look at someone like Michael Jordan, I definitely think playing at North Carolina University helped him grow into the physical freak that he was. Bryant was literally a toothpick coming out of high school, which for a 6'6" player in the NBA was not enough weight to compete against the dominant players like Jordan.
Bryant finally got into the gym and got stronger later in his career, but if he went to college, he could have had that time to grow and put that weight on earlier on. I also think he would have had more time to grow as a human being, through education and experience being around other people. Maybe if he did this, he would have made better decisions with his family, but who knows. The problem is, money talks. When you have a 1,015,000-million-dollar contract in front of you at age 17 and the risk of injury playing college ball, it's a hard temptation to resist.
In the end, it is an interesting idea that Kobe Bryant could have taken that is never brought up today. As a current student at La Salle, I think it would have changed not just basketball culture but the entire univeristy. I find it strange that I have never even heard Bryant talk about the possibility of him playing at La Salle. But if he did, he may have been able to be better than Michael Jordan. Jordan, to me, will always be the best Shooting guard/Small Forward in NBA history, but Bryant was always loyal to his team, and was always humble until the very end. There will never be another basketball player with the mixture of focus and charisma like Kobe Bryant. I’m sad to see Bryant go, he changed the game forever with his style of play. I don't think he could have ended it better than by scoring 60 points against the Jazz in his last game. Love ya Kobe! Mamba Out!