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Kobe Bryant: What Might Have Been

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Twenty years ago, a brilliant basketball recruit nearly spurned the NBA to play for the Colorado Buffaloes. Ralphie Report did some digging and brought back this story.

These aren't actually Kobe's feet. Their Karl-Anthony Towns', but I liked the picture.
These aren't actually Kobe's feet. Their Karl-Anthony Towns', but I liked the picture.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Way back in 1996, the top high school player in the country was split on a life decision. He could expand his game in college, or he could skip school and enter the NBA Draft. He chose the latter, but nearly changed Colorado basketball forever.

On the one hand, any college coach in the nation would sacrifice their firstborn son (‘sup Bryce Alford) for a chance to coach this young man. No matter the scholarship situation or how many returning starters they had, coaches were promising him all the playing time and all the play calls he could ever ask. The late Rick Majerus, then at Utah, stated that had this prospect committed to his team, he would've cut however many minutes he had to to get him. Majerus had Keith van Horn and Andre Miller (a pre-med then), and he was willing to do it.

What would you do if you could get Kobe Bryant?

In addition to Majerus, Kobe had received recruiting pitches galore from a who's who of coaches. Rick Pitino wanted him to join his Kentucky Wildcats and replace Antoine Walker's production. Kobe said Lexington was too country for him to seriously consider. Roy Williams of Kansas told him he could form a legendary duo with Paul Pierce. Kobe wouldn't have anything to do with a duo, and certainly not with an inferior player. Closer to home, UConn's Jim Calhoun and Georgetown's John Thompson II tried selling him on carrying on the legacy of their departed stars, Ray Allen and Allen Iverson, respectively. Kobe wanted none of that, saying that he didn't want to replace anything, that he would create his own legend.

These coaches had no idea that Kobe just wanted to leave two things: (1) a timeless mark on a program and (2) the East Coast. In leaving the East Coast, he wanted to live somewhere with sunshine and mountains ... and basketball, of course. That's when the University of Colorado at Boulder caught his eye.

The 1995-96 season wasn't the best season for the Buffs. Head coach Joe Harrington was fired midway through the campaign and was replaced with Ricardo Patton. That team finished with single digit wins and was last in the Big 8. But things were looking up. Patton looked promising as a tactician, young players were growing up on the court, and a freshman named Chauncey F. Billups was all the rage. This was a team on the rise and everyone knew it, especially that certain recruit.

Roy Williams pitched Kobe the idea of starring alongside Pierce, but he despised it. If he was going to play with another star, they would have to complement him in a supporting role. That player  would have to be defensively inclined and a willing passer. Hello, Chauncey Billups, defensive ace and gifted passer, savior of all that is good, destroyer of all that is evil.  Billups would be the perfect co-star for Kobe and was only getting better. Kobe knew this and believed they could form a brilliant Alpha-Beta duo.

The Colorado basketball program was far from storied and lacking legacy, but Kobe wanted to create his own. The school, as you know, was and is in the absolute perfect location. Even though he wasn't planning on staying for more than a year, the stellar academics intrigued the intelligent young man. And as discussed earlier, the presence of Billups offered additional promise to the program. The cherry on top of all this was that coach Patton reportedly had immediate chemistry with Kobe when the two first met.

Kobe didn't officially visit any college campus, but he certainly unofficially visited Boulder a few times. From all accounts, Kobe absolutely loved every minute in town. Those close to him noted that if Kobe would have gone to college, Colorado and UCLA would have been the finalists. One said that Colorado was actually substantially ahead of UCLA.

As you know, Kobe decided to go into the NBA out of high school, a decision he will never even remotely regret. He landed on the perfect team at the perfect time (thanks to Vlade), and that helped him become the icon he is today. But one has to wonder what would have happened if he would have gone to CU. Would he be the same? Would he have helped turn Colorado into a basketball powerhouse? Would the Spurs draft Kobe instead of Tim Duncan? Would my parents have gone to summer practices instead of that road trip to Oregon? Would I have been born in the first place?

I'm just kidding. None of this stuff actually happened and I wanted to have some fun. Toodles.