Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal spent eight years as Los Angeles Lakers teammates, taking home three NBA titles. But just a year into their often tumultuous marriage, the team almost went out and made a big splash for a player that would grow into a third transcendent superstar: Tracy McGrady.
Jerry West, the Lakers general manager at the time and a Hall of Fame player in his own right, drafted Kobe out of high school in 1997 after the teenager’s thoroughly impressive workout. But a year later, West was even more enamored with T-Mac, who was also coming to the pros straight from high school.
“I don’t think anybody can look at an 18-year-old and say he’s a Hall of Famer,” former Lakers head coack Del Harris told the New York Times. “You couldn’t even do that with Jordan. And Kobe was a young 18 in his first season. He was still in a pretty normal teenage body, compared to when LeBron James came in and had a man’s body.
“McGrady came in the next year with a more mature body and worked out so well that Jerry kind of tooled around with the idea that maybe we should just go ahead and make a deal for whatever it took to get this guy—even though it’d be a step back in the short term—to have two guys like this on the same team.”
Who knows how things would have worked out had the Lakers gone that route. Bryant and O’Neal eventually parted ways thanks in part to their inability to mend their relationship, so perhaps adding a third star to the mix would have caused a combustible situation in the locker room.
However, T-Mac insists that wouldn’t have been the case.
“We are talking about two of the greatest,” McGrady said on ESPN’s “The Jump.”
“To team up with these guys. What that could have done for me personally. Oh my gosh, man. … My career took a turn when I went to Orlando because I had to become a scorer, because I didn’t have Grant Hill. I was always the type of player like a Scottie Pippen type—share the ball, defend the best player. That’s what I did in my three years in Toronto. I would have been that playing alongside Kobe Bryant.”
This is apparently a theme in T-Mac’s career: He and Shaq supposedly almost joined Dirk Nowitzki on the Dallas Mavericks, and he was also nearly sent to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.