June 26, 1996. It was a day that changed the NBA – and the Los Angeles Lakers – forever.
Allen Iverson was taken first-overall, an exciting young player who could fill it up, despite being just 6’0″ tall, though he’d never win a ring in the NBA. Stephon Marbury was taken 4th, a flashy player who would end up playing in China after struggling with NBA life. Ray Allen went 5th, and would go on to become one of the league’s greatest ever shooters and would win multiple championships.
However, for Lakers fans and the future of the NBA, the 13th pick was the most important of all.
“With the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft,” David Stern announced, “the Charlotte Hornets select Kobe Bryant from Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania.”
Of course, Bryant would later end up being traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, a move which would set up the Lakers for years and years of winning.
According to the Hornets’ head scout at the time, Bill Branch, Charlotte never even intended to draft Bryant for themselves: they agreed to trade the pick for Divac a day before the draft, and then Jerry West and the Lakers informed the Hornets just five minutes before the pick was going to be made that they wanted to select Kobe Bryant.
Bryant was the first-ever guard to be drafted straight from high school into the NBA, and he impressed West enough to take a gamble on him. After Bryant matched up against Michael Cooper and Larry Drew in Los Angeles during a pre-draft workout and “marched over” them, according to West, it seemed that Kobe was destined to be a Laker.
Other notable selections in the ’96 draft were current Laker, Steve Nash, who was taken 15th overall, and five-time NBA champion with the Lakers, Derek Fisher, who was selected 24th.