Who hasn’t heard of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant? He was drafted thirteenth overall by the Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft, and then subsequently traded to the Lakers — before he hit his eighteenth birthday. He has played his entire career in Los Angeles . Over his career, he has won three NBA titles along with one league MVP. He has been named to the All-Star Team eleven times, the All-NBA First Team six times, and the All-Defensive First Team six times. He has put together an amazing career so far, and still has some years left to further cement his legacy…
We also know how Kobe skipped out on college, going straight to the NBA from high school. What some may not know is that Kobe was pretty close to going to college. If he would have gone to college, he has said that he was planning to attend Duke University . So, I have often wondered what would have happened to his career if Kobe had gone to Duke. How different would his career have been? How different would those Duke teams have been with a guy like Bryant in the lineup? I’m sure I’m not the only person who has wondered these things… so let’s take the time to gaze at the alternate reality that is Kobe in the ACC.
Lakers — Without Kobe entering the NBA Draft in 1996, the Hornets wouldn’t have had the bait to pull off a trade with the Lakers. So without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers roster would still likely look the same. In his first year, Kobe came off the bench and averaged a little over seven points per game. I see the Lakers having basically the same season without Kobe that they had with Kobe . They win between 54-57 games, and get the four seed in the Western Conference. They still beat Portland in the first round, and they still lose to Utah in the second round. Kobe didn’t make much of an impact in his first season with the Lakers, so his absence from the team wouldn’t have a big effect — that first season.
Duke — The 1996-1997 Duke Blue Devils had a record of 24-9, losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Let’s add Kobe Bryant to the lineup now. With Bryant in Durham , Duke has a very good big three in Kobe , Trajan Langdon, and Jeff Capel. With the added talent, I see Duke finishing the regular season at 26-4. Then I think they would win the ACC tournament and go to 29-4. By winning the ACC, Duke would receive the #1 seed in the East region instead of getting the #2 seed in the Southeast region. Duke would face Fairfield in the first round, winning easily. With Kobe leading the way, Duke would beat #9 seed Colorado in the second round. They would then beat #5 seed California in the Sweet 16. Following the battering of the Bears, the Blue Devils would punch their ticket to the Final Four by defeating Louisville in the Elite Eight. The Final Four would pit Duke and Arizona against each other for a trip to the title game. But even with Kobe , Duke seems to still be a little bit inexperienced. I predict they lose to Arizona , who ends up winning the whole tournament. Since Mike Krzyzewski usually asks all of his recruits to at least stay two seasons, let’s go ahead and assume that Kobe would be back for his sophomore season with Duke.
Lakers — Kobe Bryant made a little bit more of an impact in his second season in Los Angeles . He averaged over 15 points per game and averaged 26 minutes per contest. With Kobe, the Lakers finished the regular season at 61-21. So I’m going to take four wins from this team without their young talent, which would put them at 57-25. The postseason would likely play out in the same way. Again defeating Portland in the first round, and Seattle in the second round, the Lakers advance to the Western Conference Finals. Without Kobe, the results would not change one bit — the Lakers would be swept away by the Jazz.
Duke — The 1997-1998 Duke Blue Devils went 32-4, and lost in the Elite Eight to Kentucky. With Kobe Bryant entering his sophomore season for Duke, they may have one of the most feared lineups ever seen in college basketball. Kobe would start alongside Roshown McLeod, Trajan Langdon, Elton Brand, and Steve Wojciechowski to form a great lineup. With Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell coming off the bench, this team would be almost unstoppable. With Kobe, I see Duke finishing the regular season at 28-1 and winning the ACC tournament for the second straight year. That would bump their record up to 31-1, leading Duke to earn the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. They would be put in the East region, instead of being the #1 seed in the South region. Duke would open up the NCAA tournament by beating Navy in the first round. Duke would then knock off the #8 seed Charlotte in the second round, and the #4 seed Michigan State Spartans in the Sweet Sixteen. Duke would earn a second consecutive Final Four appearance by beating #2 seed UConn in the Elite Eight. Duke would face off with Utah in the Final Four, and I see them winning to set up a National Championship game with Kentucky. History shows that, without Kobe, Duke lost in the Elite Eight to Kentucky; but with Kobe, I see Duke knocking off Kentucky and winning the 1998 National Championship. With a national title to his name, it is very likely that Kobe would then decide to declare for the 1998 NBA Draft.
1998 NBA Draft — It’s kind of funny how things work out. I see Kobe being drafted #1 overall by the Los Angeles CLIPPERS. So after two years of college, Kobe still ends up in Los Angeles… just with the less-heralded franchise in town. With Kobe becoming a great college basketball player, it would be absurd for the Clippers to select Michael Olowokandi instead of Bryant.
Lakers — This season was Kobe’s first full season as a starter with the Lakers. He averaged almost 38 minutes a game, and just under 20 points per. With Bryant on the team, the Lakers went 31-19 in the shortened season. Without Kobe, I think the Lakers go 28-22, earning the #5 seed in the Western Conference. Instead of having home court against the Rockets, they will be the road team. I still think the Lakers find a way to win, taking the series in five games. With Kobe, they got swept by the Spurs in the second round; and without Kobe, they would still get swept by the Spurs in the second round.
Clippers — The 1998-99 Clippers went 9-41 in the regular season without Kobe Bryant on the team. With Kobe Bryant on the team, I think the Clippers record would improve to 16-34. They would still miss the playoffs, but they would be a much-improved team as Bryant learned the NBA game. Let’s take a look at what his stats were with the Lakers this season, and what they might’ve been with the Clippers given the extra focus he would receive in that offense:
Being under Coach K for two seasons at Duke would drastically change the way Bryant played basketball. It would get him to realize much earlier on that team basketball is how you win, and it’s not based on just one guy. This is something that he didn’t learn in real life until he was a veteran in the league. I see Kobe being voted into the All-Star Game and getting named the rookie of the year in the NBA.
Lakers — This was the first NBA Championship won by the duo of Kobe and Shaq. They won 67 games against only 15 losses, compiling the best record in the NBA. That was with the dominant duo both averaging over 20 PPG. This was also Shaq’s MVP season. Without Kobe, the Lakers record would fall from 67-15 to 55-27, sending them from a first seed to the number three in the West. Shaq would still win the MVP award. But instead of taking on Sacramento in the first round, the Lakers would face Seattle. Ironically, this would prove to be a little easier series, and the Lakers would win in four games. The Lakers would then face Utah in the second round of the playoffs, winning this series in six games. In the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers would face off with Portland — without the advantage of having home court, and without Kobe Bryant. The Lakers fall to Portland in six games, and the Blazers would ultimately go on to win the 1999-2000 NBA Championship.
Clippers — Without Kobe Bryant, the 1999-2000 Clippers remained the worst team in the NBA, going only 15-67. With Kobe Bryant, the Clippers would have had a nice trio of Kobe, Maurice Taylor and Lamar Odom. The Clippers’ record would improve by more than double. But though their record would improve from 15-67 to 34-48, they would miss the playoffs yet again. Kobe’s stats would look something like this, earning him his second consecutive trip to the All-Star Game and getting him named to the All-NBA Second Team:
Lakers — This season was the year that the Lakers’ repeated to take their second straight NBA Championship. With Bryant, the Lakers finished second in the West, going 56-26. Without Kobe Bryant, I see the Lakers dropping six more games and finishing 50-32, good enough for only sixth in the Western Conference. The Lakers would have a first-round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. Even without Kobe, they would beat Dallas in the first round in five games. In the second round, the Lakers would face a tougher test in the Sacramento Kings. I see the Kings beating the Lakers in a seven-game series. With the Lakers out of the playoffs, the road would be cleared for the San Antonio Spurs to go on to win the NBA Championship.
Clippers — The other team in Los Angeles went 31-51 without Kobe Bryant in 2000-2001. With Kobe, the Clippers would improve from 31-51 to 47-35. This would prove good enough to earn the eight seed in the Western Conference and the team’s first playoff berth since 1997. The Clippers, despite being led by Kobe, Lamar Odom, and Corey Maggette, would be beaten in four games in the first round by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. I see Kobe being voted to the All-Star Game for the third straight season, and named to the All-NBA First Team on the strength of these projected stats:
Lakers — This season ended with the third straight NBA Championship season for the Lakers with Kobe Bryant on the team. They went 58-24, and finished third in the Western Conference. Without Kobe Bryant, I see the Lakers going 52-30. That would be good for fifth in the Western Conference, and would set up a first round matchup with…
Clippers — The Clippers went 39-43 without Bryant in 2001-2002. But in this alternate reality, the Clippers would have a big three of Kobe, Corey Maggette, and Kobe’s former college teammate, Elton Brand. With this team, the Clippers improve from 39-43 to 54-28, earning the fourth seed in the Western Conference and an in-town playoff date. Facing off against the Lakers in the first round, I see the Clippers winning the fifth game to take the series — their first playoff series victory in Los Angeles, and the franchise’s first since 1976 when they were the Buffalo Braves. Despite being named again to the All-Star Game, the All-NBA First Team and coming second in MVP voting, Bryant would not be able to keep the magic alive in the next round. This team would fall in a six-game series with the eventual NBA Champion Sacramento Kings.
Lakers — Even with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers couldn’t win their fourth straight title. They finished the season 50-32, good for only fifth in the West. Without Kobe, I see the Lakers going 47-35, and dropping to eighth in the Western Conference. The Lakers would have no chance against the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, and would be beaten in five games.
Clippers — Without Kobe Bryant, the Clippers went 27-55 in 2002-2003. With Kobe, Maggette, and Brand together for their second season, the Clippers’ record would rise to 56-26. 56 wins would give the Clippers the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The Clippers would face off with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs, where I see them taking out the Wolves in six games. In the second round, the Clippers would fall to the Spurs in a six-game series. Again an All-Star and First Team All-NBA, Kobe would take his first NBA MVP award.
Lakers — This was the year that the Lakers signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone in the offseason in an attempt to reclaim their throne atop the NBA. Let’s go ahead and assume that the Lakers still sign Payton and Malone. The Lakers went 56-26 and finished second in the West with Kobe Bryant on the team. Without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers go 53-29, finishing fifth in the Western Conference. The Lakers would face off with the Kings in the first round of the playoffs, where they would win a series of attrition in seven games. The Lakers would then go on to lose to the in-town rival Clippers in a six-game series.
Clippers — The Clippers went 28-54 in 2003-2004 without Kobe Bryant; but with Kobe, Maggette, and Brand now in their third season together, I see the Clippers improving on the 02-03 season and going 59-23. That would be good enough to win the Pacific Division and claim the best record in the entire NBA. The Clippers would be the first seed in the West, beating the Denver Nuggets in five games. The six-game Lakers-Clippers series would see this team go through to their first Western Conference Finals. There they would meet the Timberwolves. I see the Clippers advancing to the NBA Finals by beating the Wolves in six games. The Clippers would then go one further, winning it all in the NBA Finals by defeating the Detroit Pistons in seven games. In addition to his second MVP award, another All-Star and First Team All-NBA appearance, Kobe’s playoff performance would earn him the Finals MVP.
Lakers — The offseason saw Shaq being traded to Miami… and while Kobe is no longer a Laker, and there would be less motivation to incite the trade, let’s keep it this way. Shaq goes on to win his only NBA title with Dwyane Wade in Miami. With the big man in the middle out of town, the 2004-2005 Lakers went 34-48 with Kobe Bryant in the lineup. So without either Kobe or Shaq, the Lakers plummet further to go only 21-61, missing the playoffs.
Clippers — The Clippers without Kobe Bryant went 37-45 in 2004-2005. With Kobe, along with Maggette and Brand, the defending champion would go 56-26, finishing fifth in the West. They would meet Seattle in the first round and win the series in five games. In the second round, the Clippers would face off against the Phoenix Suns. With their lineup, the Clippers would beat the Suns in seven games to advance to their second consecutive Western Conference Finals. In the Conference Finals, though, the Clippers end up losing to the eventual NBA Champion Spurs in six games. Kobe, again an All-Star and on the All-NBA First Team, might’ve put up numbers like these:
Lakers — With their dismal performance the previous year, the Lakers receive the second pick in the NBA Draft, which they use to take Marvin Williams. With Kobe, this team went 45-37 and finished seventh in the West. Without him, the Lakers would go 24-58 and miss out on the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Clippers — Without Kobe Bryant in 2005-2006, the Clippers went 47-35, finishing sixth in the West. With Kobe, Brand, and Maggette still together and growing as a unit, along with the addition of veteran point guard Sam Cassell, the Clippers would finish 62-20, good for the second seed in the West. The Clippers would face off with the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the playoffs, and win in a sweep. They then would meet with division rival Phoenix in the second round. I see the Clippers beating the Suns in six games before falling to the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals in a tough seven-game series. Kobe adds his third MVP award to his perennial spot in the All-Star Game and on the All-NBA First Team.
Lakers — Let’s say that their second consecutive playoff miss nets the Lakers the sixth pick in the draft, and with that pick they select Brandon Roy. The Lakers would be lead by Roy, Marvin Williams, and Lamar Odom. With Kobe, this team went 42-40 in the 2006-2007 season and finished second in the West. Without Kobe, I see this young team going 30-52 — and for the third straight season, they miss the playoffs.
Clippers — Without Kobe, the Clippers finished 40-42 and missed the playoffs. With Kobe along with Brand and Maggette yet another season, the Clippers finish 64-18, winning the Pacific Division and finishing second in the West. The Clippers would face the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, winning in six games. This would set up another playoff matchup with the Suns in the second round. I see them beating the Suns in six games. That would set up a Western Conference finals showdown between the Clippers and Spurs. I like the Clippers to win a hard fought series, taking San Antonio in game seven. The Clippers would then go on and win their second NBA title by beating the Cavaliers in five games. Kobe is named Finals MVP for the second time.
Lakers — The Lakers, improving slowly but steadily with their youth, move up to the ninth pick, drafting Rodney Stuckey. This provides another piece to last year’s core of Brandon Roy, Marvin Williams, and Lamar Odom. With Kobe Bryant, the Lakers went 57-25 and finished first in the West. They made it to the NBA Finals, losing in six to the Boston Celtics. Without Kobe, I see the Lakers going 40-42, which causes the team to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Clippers — Without Kobe, this team went 23-59. With Kobe, Brand and Maggette chewing up minutes once again, the Clippers go 56-26 and finish second in the West. The Clippers would face the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs; I see the Clippers winning the series in six games. In the second round, the Clippers fall to the Spurs in a seven-game rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final. I still like Boston to win the Finals, but they would beat San Antonio instead. Bryant earns his tenth consecutive All-Star nod and his eighth selection to the All-NBA First Team.
If Kobe would have gone to college, and stayed two years, many things would be different. Under this scenario, he would have two rings instead of three… three MVP awards instead of one… and two finals MVP awards instead of zero. Shaq would have just the one ring, which would probably take him out of the discussion when considering the best centers of all time. The Lakers franchise would only have eleven titles, and would be six away from Boston instead of just three. Phil Jackson would have six rings instead of nine.
There are a lot of positives and negatives that would have happened if Kobe would have went to Duke. We would have been deprived of seeing Kobe and Shaq lead the Lakers to three consecutive titles. Sure, Kobe would have better individual stats had he gone to college, and would have learned team basketball a lot sooner, but ultimately he would be at least one championship ring lighter at this point of his career. A lot of things would have been different if Kobe would have gone to Duke…
Submitted 3/18/ 2009
By John Mitchell
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