How Jerry West used cigarette smoking to eventually land Kobe Bryant.
This story starts in the 1989 draft with international prospect Vlade Divac. The big man was projected to go anywhere between 12-20 in the NBA draft. The Lakers had the 25th pick in the draft, meaning that Divac was supposed to be gone by the time they picked. Jerry West (the Lakers GM) began to strategize about drafting Divac.
His solution was genius, West simply asked Divac to smoke as many cigarettes as possible. Teams would be scared away by his constant smoking. Vlade was seen lighting up a cigarette just as he got off the plane for the first time in America. When draft night came, Divac could once again be seen as the constant stream of nicotine backstage in the greenroom. The ploy worked as the big man fell to 26th, right into the laps of the Lakers. TNT's Craig Sager knows West played a part in Divac's green room smoking and his slipping to L.A. at 26. Sager commented "Rumor was that Vlade was smoking when he got off the plane," Sager told USA Today, "and Jerry told him to keep smoking."
Fast forward to the 1996 draft. The Lakers held the 24th pick in the draft that year. High school prodigy Kobe Bryant worked out for the Lakers and Jerry West saw something phenomenal. West got together with Bryant’s people and told them that he would surely take the 17 year old in the draft. The only problem, Bryant was supposed to go anywhere from 9-15 in the draft. The Lakers Jerry West dealt his starting center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick (which would become Kobe Bryant).
Victim: Portland Trailblazers The Celtics were at the end of a long west coast road trip. The trip had been a huge success as Boston won six games in a row. Bill Walton tells the rest “He had accomplished every goal, we hadn’t lost a game on the trip and Larry told all of us players and the media too, we were all standing around waiting to leave, he said “Tomorrow night’s the last game of the trip, I’m going to play this one left-handed, at least through three quarters”. “At the end of three quarters, the next night in Portland against poor Jerome Kersey, he had 27 points. It was a remarkable performance.” Bird finished with 47 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 11 assists (21-34 FG). For good measure, he hit the game tying shot to send the game to OT, and then made the game winning shot.
Victim: Doctor J The infamous fight between Larry Bird and Dr J, supposedly started because of Bird continually repeating a single phrase repeatedly. The phrase? ’42-6′ or the number of points each had scored during an easy Boston victory. During the game, Bird had continuously informed Erving of their tallies with every chance he got to score. Eventually a shoving match ensued, before turning into a full on brawl. Bird denies this claim in his book, insisting it was ML Carr saying it from the bench.
Victim: Ben Poquette The legend goes Poquette a forward for Chicago was matched up on Bird during a 1984 game. Bird took this is a personal insult, he laughed at Chicago’s coach Doug Collins and remarked “Ben Poquette? Are you fucking kidding me?” Bird had 33 at the half. And ended the game with 41 points.
Victim: Kent Benson As a college freshman Larry Bird had a brief stint at Indiana University but he left due to Kent Benson’s (IU starting center) bullying. When the Celtics went up against Kent Benson in 1985 Bird got his revenge. Kent Benson was assigned to guard Kevin McHale. Bird went on to feed McHale over and over. Needless to say McHale finished with 56, a Celtic Record at the time. Kent Benson was embarrassed once again on his way to a mediocre career. “He should have gone for 60” Bird grumbled after the game.
Victim: Atlanta Hawks Doc Rivers recalls “Bird got in the zone and he started calling the shots, he started saying “off the glass”, that was the one game I think he tortured Dominique. “He saw Dominique as this up and coming player and he just tortured him, mentally. He tortured all of us, he was calling shots,”off the glass” “who’s next”, “where you want this one from” and he just made one after another. When he got to about the 55th point you knew it was something special.” “Even as a player, and that usually doesn’t happen, but we were down so much at the time, you got time to realize the game. The last shot, he said “in the trainer’s lap” coming down the court, which meant it was going to be a three and it was going to from deep, and then he said “who wants it?”. Then I think Reggie Brown, I’m not sure who it was, ran out after him, he shot this high rainbow, it goes in, Reggie bumps into him and accidentally knocks him on our trainer’s lap. “So it was exactly what he said, it was an accident but it was almost fate. They show a shot of our bench, Cliff Livingston and Eddie Johnson are standing up giving each other high fives, it was pretty awesome. “That night was not awesome. We had to go back to the room, and Mike Fratello, instead of going out to eat, he had a team meeting and put the film in and says “it’s one thing to be in awe, it’s another thing to cheer for the other team”. And he shows this back and forth, and kept rewinding the high five. It was awesome.”
Victim: Los Angeles This story comes via a cabbie in Los Angles during the mid 1980s. Legend has it that at 1985 All Star weekend in LA, Bird wanted to do some sightseeing. So he took a cab down to Venice Beach, where he instructed the cab driver “stay here for a couple hours and I will make it worth your while”. Bird proceeded to play down at the Venice Beach Basketball Courts. He played for 5 dollars a game and didn't come of the court once in 6 hours. He took the cash back to the cab driver and told him “Tell everyone what you say here today, tell your friends who really runs LA”.