In the eight-plus seasons LeBron James has spent playing in Cleveland, only once have the Cavaliers received a call asking if they'd consider dealing their transcendent star. That call, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, came in 2007 from the Los Angeles Lakers. They wanted to know if Cleveland would be willing to consider what would have been the biggest blockbuster in NBA history: a Kobe Bryant for LeBron swap.
At the time, Bryant was 28 years old. He had just averaged a league-high 32 points per game after putting up nearly 36 points a night the year before. The Lakers, however, dealt Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat three years earlier and had failed to make it out of the playoffs' first round since. Bryant was under contract for two more seasons, but was growing ornery. Thus, he requested a trade.
"At that time, the Lakers had to do something. I was just losing faith in what they were trying to do. It was like I was a meal ticket," Bryant told ESPN this week when asked about that time period. "You come out and score 40, 50 points, fill the seats, we're going to keep the payroll at a minimum, generate revenue. It's like, look, listen, I am not with that, dude. I have to win without Shaq. I've got to do it. We've got to do something."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak started making calls. He came close to dealing Bryant to the Chicago Bulls, but Bryant, who had a no-trade clause, shot that down when it became clear Luol Deng would be headed back to L.A. The Lakers and Detroit Pistons agreed to terms on a trade centered around Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, according to Windhorst, but Bryant had no interest in moving to Detroit.
That's when Kupchak decided to test his luck and give the Cavaliers a call.
"I believe it," James told ESPN this week about the 2007 offer. "If you give up one big fish, you got to give a big fish, too."
James, who was just 22 at the time, was coming off a season in which he led a thin Cavaliers team to the Finals, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. He averaged 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists that year and was under contract for three more seasons.
As expected, Cleveland informed the Lakers that James was untouchable, according to Windhorst. They attempted to pry Bryant away by offering up every other member of their roster, but the Lakers weren't interested. Even if they were, Bryant says now that he wouldn't have authorized the deal.
"I never would've approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never," Bryant said to ESPN. "That wasn't one of the teams that was on my list. It was Chicago, San Antonio [or] Phoenix."
A little over a year later, the Lakers traded for All-Star big man Pau Gasol, giving Bryant the sidekick he needed. The rest is history. L.A. went on to make the Finals three straight years and won two titles.
Bryant announced that he plans on retiring following this season. He and the Lakers travel to Cleveland Wednesday night in what will likely be his last game against James. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. ET and the game will be televised on ESPN.
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Pivotal Moment: The time Kobe asked a 10-year-old for advice
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