The Warriors Not Drafting Kobe Bryant was a Blessing

November 1, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) smiles in front of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
November 1, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) smiles in front of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Golden State Warriors missed out on drafting Kobe Bryant. Perhaps it was a good thing.

The name Todd Fuller probably still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many Warriors fans everywhere.

In the 1996 NBA Draft, the Golden State Warriors selected Fuller, a senior center out of NC State, with the 11th pick. Two picks later, the Charlotte Hornets selected (and, shortly after, traded) Kobe Bryant. One guy went on to win five championships in his illustrious career while the other guy struggled to play five seasons in the NBA.

Out of all of the Warriors’ misses, this might have been the biggest one. And every season, when Bryant would torch Golden State en route to another run at a title, the Warriors were reminded of this. And it was embarrassing.

Bryant is playing in his last NBA game tonight, closing the book on what has been a spectacular twenty year career with enough highlights to keep you entertained for hours. His list of accolades is almost endless. His 81 point performance is the greatest display of scoring most of us have ever seen.

But could it be possible that the Warriors drafting a bust center ahead of Hall of Famers turned out to be a good thing?

The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors will look to set the all-time record with a 73rd regular season win tonight. Led by soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors have enjoyed the greatest season in league history following an already incredibly championship year. Things couldn’t get much better for the Warriors right now.

The Warriors have taken a long and winding road to get to this point. It’s gone downhill more often than not. At some points, the franchise was in a complete free fall. But the climb up was quick and the peak is higher than anybody else’s. Bill Simmons wrote a wonderful (and heartbreaking) piece titled “How to Annoy a Fanbase in 60 Seconds” that took an in-depth look at all of the Warriors’ failings as a franchise. One of the most notable ones, of course, was the ’96 Draft.

But twenty years after that draft and twenty years after Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls became the greatest team of all-time, Curry and the Warriors now stand on top of the basketball world. If the Warriors had selected the Black Mamba with the 11th pick in that draft, it’s not likely that the Warriors would have turned into those Los Angeles Lakers and that Bryant would build the career he has today. Furthermore, the elation that Warriors fans feel today would be different, to say the least.

Bryant won three championships in a row early in his career. While he was one of the league’s brightest young stars, it was Shaquille O’Neal who anchored those teams. It’s not reasonable to expect that the shooting guard would have blossomed in Golden State the way he did without O’Neal, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, and the nearly limitless resources that playing in Los Angeles offers.

Backtracking to Simmons’ piece, the Warriors have failed a lot. One decent decision could have led to a good one. The Warriors might have become a regular playoff team with Bryant and maybe they could have lured another free agent before making a run at a title. It’s all very Back to the Future. If the Warriors changed even one small detail in franchise history, it could have and, probably, would have altered everything.

No Curry. No Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. No Steve Kerr. No 72 win season.

The joy that Warriors fans are feeling now is a result of the many years of incompetence. The lows make the highs feel so much better. A championship is a championship and those are always great. But there’s something special about flipping the script on the whole league, climbing from the cellar to the rooftop.

Bryant’s impact is almost unparalleled in league history. We’ve all, at some point, launched a fadeaway, letting go of a piece of trash that probably didn’t go into the waste basket while yelling “Kobe!” He’s needed the Lakers just as much as the Lakers have needed him. He’s become the all-time great he has because of his situation, one that he probably wouldn’t have gotten in Golden State. It can also be argued (and I did) that Curry is, in fact, better than Bryant ever was. In which case, the Warriors did win, in that sense, too.

This historic Warriors run has been many years in the making. One that could have been completely disrupted had they drafted Kobe Bryant instead of Todd Fuller all those years ago. So, as weird as it may sound, it may be better that the Warriors decided to pass on a future Hall of a Famer in favor of a bust.

As Bryant rides off into the sunset, the Warriors will go for a record 73rd win at the same time as the universe finally pays the Warriors back for decades of misfortune and incompetence.