4 NBA stars who demanded a trade that didn’t happen

Kobe Bryant, NBA (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant, NBA (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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NBA Star #1: Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant’s 2007 trade request is still, to this day, the most infamous example of a request that was never fulfilled. At the time, Kobe was easily one of the best players in the league. He was the second-best player on three consecutive finals teams and had already cemented himself as one of the best shooting guards of all time with nine first-team All-NBA teams.

Despite all the talent in the world, though, trading the NBA legend would be tough. He had a no-trade clause he would have to waive, meaning he could deny any destination he didn’t care for, and a trade bonus of about $13 million.

Specifically, Kobe’s trade request was made after a leak in the Lakers organization pinned him as the one responsible for Shaquille O’Neal being traded to Miami due to their historically unamicable relationship over the years. Bryant denied this, but it, of course, made him irate.

He felt a betrayal of trust along with trepidation about the front office’s ability to build a team around him. Bryant, in a radio interview with ESPN’s Steven A. Smith, was adamant that there was no way for him to return to the Lakers; his decision was all but final.

Kobe then quickly started to backpedal, only a few hours later in another interview with ESPN’s Dan Patrick.

"It’s tough. I always dreamed about retiring as a Laker. I just hope something can be resolved. Something can be figured out. Just something so I can stay here and be in this city and be with the team I love."

Evidently, Bryant had spoken with the Laker’s head coach, Phil Jackson, between the interviews, and things were able to calm down, but not entirely. Bryant wanted something to be done within the organization; he continued to speak about how he wanted something to be done because he didn’t want to go anywhere else, but then confirmed he still wanted to be traded.

The entire situation was a mess and a half. Kobe later came out and spoke with Smith again for a Philadelphia Inquirer column. He detailed a previous meeting he had with Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss in an attempt to clear up any rumors regarding his part in O’Neal’s departure.

"He met with me at the Four Seasons Hotel here [in Newport Beach, Calif.] across from Fashion Island, which is now the Island Hotel. I went up to his penthouse suite. [Buss] looks me dead in the face and says: “Kobe, I am not going to re-sign Shaq. I am not about to pay him $30 million a year or $80 million over three years. No way in hell. I feel like he’s getting older. His body is breaking down, and I don’t want to pay that money to him when I can get value for him right now rather than wait. “This is my decision. It’s independent of you. My mind is made up. It doesn’t matter to me what you do in free agency because I do not want to pay [Shaq], period.” Dr. Buss said that. And I haven’t said anything for years because I’ve always felt like folks were just looking to create controversy. Now I know. I realize what extent [the Lakers] will go to, to cover themselves."

ESPN’s Greg Anthony also reported that Bryant would rescind his trade demand if the Lakers fired whoever was responsible for the leaked rumor stating he was responsible for O’Neal being traded. The story has layers upon layers. Bryant really felt mistreated and that the team lacked a clear direction that involved him. Eventually, a deal was found with the Detroit Pistons, with the caveat being that it was not one of Bryant’s preferred destinations.

Buss called Bryant to his house for a meeting to inform him of the deal and request his approval for the trade to go through. Bryant took everything into account and ultimately decided to stay. He wanted to be a Laker for life, so he put his trust back into the organization to build a team around him.

And build they did; 2008’s trade deadline saw the Lakers’ acquisition of future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol, and the rest is history. The Lakers went to three straight finals from 2008 to 2010, winning two, and Kobe won two Finals MVP awards.

No one knows what would have happened if Kobe went to Detroit or anywhere else, but regardless, staying with the Purple and Gold was the right decision. Kobe’s last two rings put him in the upper echelon of NBA legends. His status is forever cemented as one of the best to ever play.

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But beyond even that, after Kobe and his daughter Gianna’s tragic death in 2020, it was clear just how much the city of Los Angeles treasured and adored Kobe Bryant. He played all 20 seasons of his career with the Lakers, won five championships, and has both number 8 and 24 retired in the rafters of Crypto.com arena (formerly Staples Center). Deciding to stay with the Lakers and rescind the trade request was one of the most important moves of his career and his life.