Kobe Bryant has faced Michael Jordan on many occasions and been compared to him on several more.
However, those comparisons could have become even greater when Bryant, frustrated by the direction of his Los Angeles Lakers, requested a trade back in 2007.
His desired destination? The Chicago Bulls - a city and team that revere the ground Jordan walks on.
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“Chicago was my number one choice,” Bryant told Grantland Basketball Hour last year. In the same interview, Bryant revealed that he rejected a trade to the Detroit Pistons that would've sent Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and several draft picks to the Lakers.
Tonight, Bryant will make his final appearance as an active player at the United Center in Chicago. The Lakers currently own the second-worst record in the NBA (11-45) and might be without Bryant after he dislocated his finger in a game versus the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.
The Bulls (28-26) are in the playoff race but are still without budding superstar Jimmy Butler.
However, if the Bulls did acquire Bryant before the 2007-08 season, how different would things be? For starters, Bryant would have escaped a tumultuous organization in Los Angeles – seemingly reluctant to field a championship caliber team at the time.
Shaquille O'Neal was gone and experiencing success with the Miami Heat. Phil Jackson was back as the head coach but Kobe Bryant was alone in guiding a sinking Lakers ship.
According to a 2015 Los Angeles Times article, the Bulls and Lakers' trade talks surrounding Bryant involved swingman Luol Deng – now with the Miami Heat. Deng, in his early 20s at the time, was slowly developing into an all-around threat.
In his first three years, Deng consistently improved as his field goal percentage, points per game, and rebounds increased. Factoring in his natural athleticism, he was a perfect fit on nearly any team.
The Bulls elected to hold onto Deng, however, and he spent six-and-a-half more years in Chicago. If Deng was traded to Los Angeles, he would've presumably become the team's go-to option on offense with a supporting cast of Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and Andrew Bynum by his side.
As for Bryant, he would've stepped into the shoes vacated by Jordan a decade earlier. Undoubtedly becoming the Bulls' franchise player, Bryant would have made the team contenders for years to come.
Entering his prime, the “Black Mamba” and his self-admitted hunger to surpass Jordan's six championship rings would have been a neat storyline in the Windy City.
"There's an unbelievable history that they have there, a special significance to me personally," Bryant said to the Los Angeles Times this week.
"Growing up and watching Michael [Jordan] and Scottie [Pippen] and all those guys play, and having learned so much from watching them perform, there's so many great memories for me."
With Deng out and Bryant in, the Bulls' core would've been centered around Ben Gordon, Joakim Noah, and Bryant. A solid triumvirate of players that might have been bolstered with the addition of some complimentary free agents.
In reality, things went the way that Bryant hoped and the way the Bulls wish they did. The Lakers held onto Bryant and went on to a 57-25 record, reaching the NBA Finals before losing in six games to the Boston Celtics in 2008.
They were able to do so after acquiring versatile Spaniard Pau Gasol in a midseason trade, giving Bryant a viable co-star.
The Bulls experienced a poor season that year as the club went 33-49, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference. It's a safe bet that barring injury, Bryant would've likely steered Chicago to a better record, possibly the playoffs, maybe even an NBA Finals appearance.
If that happened, the Bulls would not have received the No.1 overall pick in the NBA Draft the next season, thus future MVP Derrick Rose would've gone elsewhere.
Rose's stint in Chicago has included several winning seasons but has struggled massively with injuries.
The Heat had the second overall pick that year. However, a strong season by Chicago may have given Miami the first overall pick instead, allowing them to draft Rose.
If Rose developed the same way he did with Chicago, LeBron James may have never signed with the Heat in 2010. With Dwyane Wade and Rose in the backcourt, adding James would've been overkill.
Or, Miami could've taken a different point guard, such as Russell Westbrook, who was drafted fourth by Seattle Supersonics. Had this trade of Bryant to the Bulls happened, the NBA would not have only been changed, it may be unrecognisable at this stage.
Many questioned Bryant's loyalty as he wanted out of Los Angeles. Some praised him for his dedication to winning. Heck, Bryant may have burned a bridge or two with his candid remarks of the Lakers' struggles.
Yet, his five championships and a two-decade stint in purple and gold speak volumes.