Bryant, who is expected to miss the rest of this season with a torn rotator cuff, said his poor relationship with superstar teammate Shaquille O'Neal led him to think about leaving Los Angeles. While Bryant and O'Neal led the Lakers to three titles in a row to start the millennium, they had an infamously hot-and-cold relationship on and off the floor.
“The challenge had been thrown down upon me, of not being able to win without Shaq. A public challenge never really bothered me too much, but he made a couple of comments as well. I think he called me Penny Hardaway Part 2 or something like that. So that’s what [ticked] me off,” Bryant said. “Then it was like, ‘Listen, you know the step back that I took to help us win championships. Let’s not get [expletive] confused. I can dominate on my own. I decided to stay here and win championships and sacrifice MVPs and scoring titles and all that stuff.’ So once that was said, it was like a line in the sand now.”
Bryant said he was enamored with the idea of being around Jordan, who he passed for No. 3 on the league's all-time scoring list this season, on a daily basis and learning from him.
“I’ve always been very big on having mentors, on having muses and I’ve been really, really big on that,” Bryant said. “Being around guys who have done it before and done it at a high level and always tried to pick their brains and always tried to absorb knowledge. Obviously, being in that situation [with the Wizards], it would’ve helped having to be around him every day and so on.”
The plan fizzled before Bryant ever reached free agency, as then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin took away Jordan's decision-making authority in 2003. With Jordan out of the picture in Washington, the Wizards were never a realistic landing spot for Bryant.
After the Lakers traded O'Neal to the Miami Heat, Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract to stay in Los Angeles. He won a pair of titles with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010 without O'Neal.
- Paul Palladino