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Would Your Company Trade For Kobe Bryant?

Do you like spending a large portion of your comp budget on the best player available, or would you rather have strength at all positions and spread the money around?  You can't have it both ways, so pick already...

The whole Kobe Bryant thing is getting a lot of airtime.  For those of you who aren't aware of Kobe and don't follow pro hoops, here's a primer.  Bear with me, there's a talent nugget related to stars vs. teams somewhere in this:

-Kobe was drafted straight out of high school (1997?), and rapidly ascended into theKobe stratosphere of the NBA, winning 3 NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s and is now widely regarded as the best player on the planet.

-As Kobe matured, he has become widely reported as more selfish, to the extent he forced the trade of an all-star teammate (Shaquille O'Neal).  His desire by most accounts in doing this?  He didn't want to share the limelight with Shaq, and wanted to win a title as the sole franchise player.

-Since running off Shaq, Kobe's image has taken other hits, including sexual assault charges that were ultimately dropped, but not before the details of the case came out and painted him in a very negative light.  In the process, he lost lots of "look at this good guy" endorsements with uber-brands like McDonald's, Sprite and Adidas.

-The latest on Kobe?  Frustrated that the whole "me without Shaq" thing hasn't worked out, Kobe's lashing out at his team (the Lakers) by demanding a trade.... Repeatedly, and loudly...

The trade demands have swirled around for 6-8 months, and are heating up again with the start of the NBA season and the booing of Kobe in the Laker's home opener this season.   With this backdrop in mind, one franchise is rumored to have the means and the desire to do a deal with the Lakers and bring Kobe into their fold - the Chicago Bulls.

Your mission as a talent pro?  Figure out whether you would risk your culture by bringing the most talented, and at times, the most disgruntled player in pro basketball, into your team by comparing and contrasting Kobe and the Bulls.

Here's a rundown of the Bulls:

-Building with Youth - The Bulls have built their team over the last 5 years through the draft, to the extent that they now have a roster of 10-11 solid players, 3-4 with the ability to be All-Stars.  To get Kobe, they'll have to trade 4 of those players, including 2 All-Stars...

-Team-First Approach - The Bulls use a balanced approach, with different players stepping up and leading the team in scoring every night.  Hustle and floor burns are also the norm with the squad.

-Authority Matters - The Bulls have a coach who has actually said "no" to a reasonable (but individualistic) request by a player (Ben Wallace wanted to wear a headband) and was backed by the front office.  To this point, it's been the coach's way or the highway, a rarity in pro hoops.

-Compensation Flexibility - Building with youth means the Bulls have a reasonable payroll, and can make a variety of decisions in the coming years regarding which players warrant contract extensions, etc.  If Kobe comes aboard and has his contract reworked, most of that flexibility is gone...

So what would you do if you were the General Manager for the Chicago Bulls? It's a talent trap, the star vs. the team thing...

It's easy for me - If I were running the Bulls, I would stand pat.  Not because I hate Kobe, because I don't.  While the Bulls haven't won a championship, they are undeniably still in their ascent towards a championship.  Will they win a championship?  Who knows?  One thing is certain - the curtain hasn't begun to close at this point.  Additionally, I like the aspect of where the Bulls are from a payroll perspective.  They can choose when and where they want to put their money in the years to come.  Finally, Kobe's a 3-time cancer to those around him (Shaq, the criminal charges that were dropped, and the recent trade demands), so even if things went well initially, there's a high probability he would poison the current culture eventually. 

I'd do the same thing with a workplace team.  Keep the deep team intact, avoid the attention starved, disruptive forces that drag everyone down...

What about you?


Frank Roche

Kobe is a rapist. End of story for me. There are no redeeming qualities that will overcome that in my mind.

Wally Bock

If I were the Bulls, I wouldn't trade for Kobe for the following reasons.

Bringing anyone, no matter how good, in at this stage of camp means you spend at least the first half of the season learning to play together.

Trading lots of talented players for a single star rarely works out well. This is true even in basketball where one player can make a huge impact.

If you're playing the odds, you're almost certainly better with a cohesive team than you are with a star and a supporting cast. So the question is: Will the Bulls be a better team with Kobe?

My answer is "probably not." Kobe hasn't shown the willingness to work with others for the good of the team. He makes others less, rather than more, successful.

He also appears to be the rotten apple in the barrel, poisoning team relationships. This seems to be increasing rather than decreasing as he ages.

It doesn't matter what angle I look at this from, trading a bunch of young, team-oriented talent for one arrogant superstar out for himself doesn't seem like a good idea.

Tom Kennedy

Well the 76ers had a similar situation and decided to trade Alan Iverson and rebuild. The 76ers realized that critical competencies are relative, and a player can have exceptional individual talent and still have limited or even negative value for the organization. In Iverson's case it had to do with teamwork, which is a critical need for the 76ers. Now that he's with the Nuggets people are waiting to see if that team's dynamics will profit from his engagement style.

In any organization human capital needs to be viewed from a group perspective, and relative strengths and balance become the predominating issue. In terms of ROI from a compensation perspective, again that must be balanced by the relative needs of the organization. The key is to build organizational talent, not to acquire superstar talent out of context with organizational needs.


When I lived in Chicago we used to use the line, "What if they got hit by a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus tomorrow?" Kobe gets injured and is out for the rest of the season and you've not only lost your leading player, but your bench strength as well.

At a recent IHRIM meeting here in the Silicon Valley one of the panelists mentioned that a trend is just starting where companies are hiring teams of individuals who work well together, rather than building teams or pulling together random people to act as teams. A well-oiled and well-tuned team plays to each member's strengths, fills in for co-worker's weaknesses and consistently produces strong results. Cockpit crews who often work together have less flight safety issues. Surgery teams who work together have better, more consistent results.

If the coach decides to consider bringing Kobe into the the group, he will need the support of the team to be successful. Include everyone in the interview and decision-making process. Make sure Kobe knows the team will decide, then see where the cards fall.


Frank/Wally/Tom/Karen -

You guys are good. Great comments all, from the minimalist approach of Frank (I agree) to the rest of you who worked it out. You guys should be GMs in the league.

Karen - like your thoughts about all being a part of some consensus-building interviews. Here's a wacky side angle - those who would be traded would likely be interviewing before the decision was made. Who hasn't seen candidate be carved up by those with other agendas?

Thanks for the dimes!!


Matt Chapman

I think people forget that a successful sports franchise maximizes profits, and winning championships are secondary to the bottom line. It's the entertainment value that is most important to your bottom line, not your win-loss record. This is very different from your typical business.

Take the Chicago Cubs for example, not exactly a historical winner, but would anyone turn down an offer to own this team?

Me? I trade for Kobe and sell every type of Kobe Bryant jersey, t-shirt or anything else with his name on it. If I win...well that's just an added bonus. I'm pretty sure I'll have a packed house every night.


Consensus building among teammates isn't new for the Bulls. Back in the 1990s when Phil Jackson was trying to decide whether or not he should hire Dennis Rodman he asked Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippin to help him decide.

Dennis definitely brought a badboy image to the Bulls. He was like the Britney Spears of the NBA!

While Matt's comments about maximizing profits with tie ins is a good one. I'm not sure this would work in Kobe's situation. As Frank said ... Kobe's a rapist. Dennis was just a party boy who liked to wear women's clothes.

Fun discussion!

Back to Jason's original question... I guess the corporation would have to weigh value with disruption if they had an opportunity to bring on a superstar. The answer would depend on the circumstances.

Jaime @ Fitzgerald Analytics

Thanks for an interesting post -- please keep the sports case studies coming :-)

While Kobe's on-the-floor stats are impressive, his "fully loaded" performance may not be superstar-level due to his mixed personality, his questionable team and personal ethics, and his legal history. My sense is that you decided against paying up for Kobe because on a "balanced scorecard basis," he isn't worth the superstar price tag.

Thanks again,


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