Before Kobe Bryant and LeBron James faced each other Wednesday night — the result being a 120-111 Cavs victory — a report surfaced that back in 2007, the Lakers contacted Cleveland’s front office about a Kobe-for-LeBron swap.
At the time, Bryant was 28 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged 31.6 points per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field. LeBron James was only 22 years old and was coming off his first Finals appearance – a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
But Bryant wasn’t satisfied with his previous three rings and became extremely upset with the Lakers’ front office. He didn’t feel the Lakers were strong enough to make another championship run, and that management wasn’t doing enough to change that fact. The purple and gold got busy and contacted the only option they viewed as equivalent to the talent of the “Black Mamba.”
Despite potentially receiving a significant return, Cleveland informed the Lakers that their hometown superstar was unavailable. However, the Cavs countered and told the Lakers’ front office that LA could take whoever else they wanted on the team — the options included Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden, Eric Snow, Larry Hughes, Boobie Gibson, Damon Jones, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak most likely scoffed at the counter and respectfully declined. While a swap of LeBron for Kobe would’ve shifted the entire future of the NBA, Kobe made it clear the trade would not have happened. With a no-trade clause in his contract, Bryant said, “I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never. That wasn’t one of the teams that was on my list. It was Chicago, San Antonio, [or] Phoenix.”
In the end, the Lakers managed to acquire Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies and assemble a championship squad that would go on to win two more titles. Bryant got his wish of a contender-level roster, while never having to leave the city of Los Angeles.
It would have been the biggest trade in NBA history, but one that never really came close to fruition. While it is left to our imaginations how the league would be different today, it remains the only time a team has offered a trade for LeBron James.