Kobe Bryant was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. He was later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. Independence Day (the original) came out that summer. I remember because it was the first movie I took a "girlfriend" out to see.
I remember that draft not for Bryant but for Samaki Walker, who was taken with the 9th pick. Walker was the best basketball player to ever come through my high school, which I was about to begin attending in the fall. I remember it for Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kerry Kittles, and John Wallace. Collegiate players who had earned their fame in the NCAA tournament. I didn't know anything about Kobe Bryant.
Bryant returns to visit the franchise that originally drafted him for the last time, even if that history has been re-written to stay in Charlotte. He's the best guard of his generation and there is an argument whether he, Tim Duncan, or Kevin Garnett was the best of their generation. The "lost" years after Michael Jordan sure did produce some great players if the basketball wasn't terribly interesting for nearly a decade.
What does Bryant mean to New Orleans? To Pelican fans? To NBA history?
If the then-Charlotte Hornets do not trade Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night is there a professional basketball team in New Orleans?
Chris Cucchiara: If the Charlotte Hornets never traded Kobe Bryant to the Lakers, then I would believe that the Charlotte organization would not have moved to New Orleans. Kobe was not the type of player that required the "right coach" or the "right situation" to develop into a great player. He had that dog in him. He was going to be great no matter what team picked him. Unless his diva ways had him force his way out of Charlotte, but I believe the credit the franchise would have built up during the Kobe era would have bought the franchise time to rebuild. Also, Charlotte may have obtained something substantial in return, so I believe there are many ways for the team to have remained in Charlotte. I do believe that New Orleans could have still had a basketball team as the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2006, so in theory, New Orleans would have been in the running for that franchise.
David Fisher: I don't think so, but as Chris mentions there might not be basketball in Oklahoma City without the Hornets. Kobe Bryant was going to be successful no matter where he went and the Charlotte Hornets with Bryant, Glen Rice, and maybe not trading away Larry Johnson could have been interesting. However, it is important to remember much of the reason why the Hornets moved was because the city of Charlotte hated George Shinn. The Hornets made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons before they left Charlotte. Maybe if they had Kobe Bryant they would have won more, but winning alone doesn't keep that franchise with that owner in the Queen City.
Zachary Junda: It's hard to say because who knows how many other factors could have been at work with something as big as franchise relocation, but I'd say no there wouldn't be a team here. When you think about who New Orleans could have had it's a real downer. Remember in 1976-77, New Orleans had the rights to Moses Malone but flipped him along with their picks in '77, '78 and '79 to Los Angeles for Gail Goodrich and their first round pick in the '78 draft. Know who Los Angeles picked with that 1979 pick? Magic Johnson. So New Orleans could have had Moses Malone, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant and got none of them.
What is your favorite memory of Kobe Bryant playing the Pelicans (reaching back to the New Orleans Hornets days as well)?
Chris Cucchiara: My favorite memory of Kobe was back in March 23, 2007. The Lakers were visiting the Hornets and Kobe was in the midst of a three game stretch in which he scored 50 points. It was the first NBA game that my then-girlfriend, later my wife, had ever attended. She is from a small town outside of Lafayette, so I had a fun time explaining why I hated Kobe Bryant so much, about his streak and that my only goal was for the Hornets to stop his streak. Needless to say, Kobe scored 50 in that game, the last in his streak.
David Fisher: April 24, 2011. Chris Paul was at the apex and dropped an ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS 27 points, 15 assists, and 13 rebounds. I was in the building and it was electric. Insane. As the second quarter wound down Paul ran pick and roll after pick and roll just to get Kobe switched onto him and then ate Bryant alive. Jarrett Jack nailed a clutch shot with nine seconds left and they played Crunk during the media timeout and the then-New Orleans Arena felt like it might physically lift off.
Chris Paul would only play two more games in a Hornets uniform.
Then there's this, which tells it's own story in just six seconds.
Zachary Junda: I hate to be a victim of recent bias but honestly it might be the three pointer he hit inside of a minute in the game this past February at the Smoothie King Center. The game was entirely meaningless yes, but there's just something about seeing legends turning back the clock and reminding us why they're great. The old man still had it and it was a pleasure to watch.
How will you remember Kobe Bryant? Do you think history will be kind to him as analytics continue to advance?
Chris Cucchiara: I am biased when it comes to Kobe. I do not like him. I believe it when the whispers are heard about free agents not wanting to go to the Lakers because of him. He is selfish and saved all of us a dominating Lakers era by being the petulant teammate he was by running Shaq out of town. I will remember him as a fierce competitor, great scorer and a sad Michael Jordan wannabe. Jordan was a jerk, but his teammates respected him and wanted to play with him. Imagine how bad of a teammate Kobe must have been for players to avoid a team with the Lakers history and the chance to play basketball in a city with perfect weather and beaches. Even more, I hate how he is acting all "Aww shucks" this year instead of going out in true defiant Kobe fashion. I will remember him for stealing Chris Paul's MVP and for winning the finals MVP while shooting 8-24.
David Fisher: Analytics aren't going to take the shine off of those five championship rings, even if Kobe wasn't the best player on any of those championship teams. Kobe was the most popular player on the most popular franchise for years. He dropped 81 points in a game. There's going to be a statue of him outside Staples Center beside Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal. Kobe's game is unlikely to be replicated in the future thanks to a whole new generation venerating Stephen Curry but his legacy is in tact.
Zachary Junda: Kobe may have been a Michael Jordan impersonator who could never quite pull the impression off and an a-hole but he's also maybe the best basketball player of my lifetime. If nothing else he is the definitive two-guard of my life. I wasn't old enough to remember Jordan, but I grew up watching Kobe and I'll always remember the fire and the scowl he played with.