This is perhaps what makes basketball, and sports in general, so fascinating to follow. On paper, there are so many ways to measure what we think we know about a player. There are so many ways that we can try and analyze the potential of a player’s future, only to find out later that all we were ever looking were measly analytics. Sometimes, seeing the future of a player’s greatness lies in something more than just what’s on the stat sheet. In lies in that gut instinct.
To further illustrate this point, we’d like to bring up a classic case of one of the worst NBA trades of all time. But more importantly, we’d like to shed light on why this case study lines up perfectly with our argument of gut instinct over pure stats. When the Charlotte Hornets drafted Kobe Bryant in 1996, he was an unproven, 18-year-old child out of Lower Merion High School. He looked pretty good, but he was raw – and the Hornets needed a big man who had proven himself in the league.
Now, Laker general manager Jerry West had seen the young Bryant play, and he thought he was more than “pretty good.” He felt that he was exceptional, and it didn’t have anything to do with stats. It had to do with a gut feeling, a vision that he saw in the eyes of Kobe Bryant. He saw that Kobe had that indefinable quality that is so unshakeable, and yet ever illusive inside all of us. He promptly traded Divac to the Hornets for Kobe, and the rest was history. With the help of Bryant, the Lakers now have five more championships, and the Hornets have none.
NBA history is filled with unfortunate trade mistakes just like this one, and it truly is fascinating to see the process of how people perceived it before, and how people perceived it afterward. There is an NBA slogan that says “I love this game,” and perhaps there is something in the entertainment of witnessing these front office blunders that enables us to love it even more.