Philly Papers Set the Kobe Table

Sportswriter Bob Ford retraces how Kobe was almost a 76er.

As usual, the Philadelphia Daily News has the killer-pun front page headline.

But in terms of must-reads ahead of Kobe Bryant’s final visit to Philadelphia in an NBA shooting guard uniform, the honors belong to the Inquirer. Teased on their front page, the article by Bob Ford revisits how the Lakers star was almost drafted by the 76ers in 1996 at #1 instead of Allen Iverson:

[Sixers head coach and GM] John Lucas came home from a disappointing road trip in the spring of 1995 – the Sixers of that era rarely had any other kind – and his wife told him there was a high school player he needed to see. Their daughter, Tarvia, attended Lower Merion High School and that is where Debbie Lucas made her discovery.

She had purchased tickets for the District 1 semifinal game between Lower Merion and Coatesville at the Palestra, a game in which Bryant would be matched up against sophomore Richard “Rip” Hamilton of Coatesville.

In the cinder-block corridors of the Palestra before the game, Lucas saw Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, the former La Salle star and NBA forward against whom Lucas had played.

“What are you doing here?” Lucas said.

“My son plays for Lower Merion,” Bryant said. “What are you doing here?”

“My wife wants me to see some kid named Kobe,” Lucas said.

“That’s my son,” Bryant said.

Ford goes on to share a telltale story, detailing how high schooler Bryant played one-on-one in 76er tryouts against league veteran Vernon Maxwell and how his intensity became a benchmark for Lucas. Bryant was chosen 13th in the 1996 NBA draft, in a pick traded to the Lakers.

The what-if discussion of Kobe vs. Iverson is lively across the Web today. On, this hometown fan sums it up convincingly:

Evan Young: Being a Sixers fan it would be hard for me to say I would’ve rather had Kobe than Iverson. Sure he would’ve had the “hometown hero” effect and maybe he could’ve brought us one championship but AI fit Philly to a T. He’s beyond beloved. He and Brian Dawkins are worshipped in this town for their heart and especially Iverson’s underdog mentality. We love Rocky and AI epitomized those traits. Barely 5’11”, taking absolute beatings every night, and still dropping 30 or 40 like it was nothing. Sure they didn’t get along but Kobe had the benefit of riding Shaq’s coattails for a few championships. AI’s best sidekick might’ve been Aaron McKie, a 12ppg sixth man. In that amazing run AI (MVP) did have the coach of the year (Brown), 6th man and defensive player (Mutumbo) but he willed that team to the finals against a Goliath Lakers team, and if the roles were reversed I really don’t know if Kobe, as great as he was, could’ve done what Iverson did.

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@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.