Jerry West decided to trade for Kobe Bryant after having a look at him working out against Michael Cooper. ESPN gave us an inside scoop recently.
John Black, who was the Lakers’ VP of public relations at the time, describes this now-famous workout:
“It’s very simple to sum up,” he says. “Greatest workout I’ve ever seen.”
“Michael Cooper was 40 at the time. Although he had been retired a few years, he was still a freak. Still wiry. Still in great shape. Cooper at 40 was like a normal person at 25.”
“Larry Bird is on record saying Cooper was the most difficult guy he ever played against in his career, the toughest guy to ever defend him. And there’s Jerry saying to him, “Don’t take it easy on this kid. Make him work as hard as you can.”
“Kobe never backed down from anyone, even at age 17. Kobe did not know how to be deferential. Michael was playing his best and Kobe just had his way with him. Kobe was just destroying him.”
Michael Cooper narrates the experience of guarding a 17-year-old Bryant
Cooper had won Defensive Player of the Year as a sixth man for the Lakers in 1986-87. He wasn’t going to let some school kid bully him around, but Kobe Bryant was no ordinary 17-year-old:
“I thought I was going to go out there and whip his a**, to tell you the truth. That was my thought. I was like, OK, look, I don’t give a f— how old I am, I’m not gonna let some f—ing guy do anything.”
In 1996, Jerry West and the @Lakers hosted a workout for a 17-year-old named Kobe Bryant.
25 years later, it’s become one of the best decisions, and stories, in NBA history. https://t.co/NHyhC5GuAv
— ESPN (@espn) March 2, 2021
“And boy was I brought back to reality quick. In a hurry I found out that 40 and 17 don’t go together on the court. At the very beginning, I got right in there and got my hands right up in his face.”
“Guys hate that, especially young guys. He just rose up over my hand like I wasn’t even there. I was planning on him not being that strong and that he’d be intimidated.”
Cooper then revealed that it got pretty physical, and some nut-kicking took place:
“He did kick me in the nuts one time with his leg, and I was mad about that. But that was it. I was banging on him, I was hitting him with my forearm and he was banging me right back. I hit him hard one time, in the kidney and it was a cheap shot, on purpose. It was just that he was backing me down, backing me down and so I hit him. He felt it, you could tell.”
All in all, Kobe won the workout in every which way.