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Looking back: Kobe Bryant, Pistons had an intriguing history

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — It seems more like urban legend than fact, but Kobe Bryant could have been with the Pistons in 2007.

Could have been — that is, if Bryant didn’t veto the trade because Detroit wasn’t on his preferred list of trade destinations.

The Pistons franchise has an interesting history with Bryant, who died Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash in California that killed all nine passengers.

Kobe Bryant and Elden Campbell mix it up under the basket as the Pistons host the Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 2004.

Bryant was one of the biggest icons in NBA history and whether it’s the vetoed trade or the memorable 2004 NBA Finals series against the Pistons, the remembrances of The Black Mamba will endure.

Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, who was Bryant’s former agent, tried to encapsulate the loss.

“Kobe Bryant was far and away the greatest athlete I had the privilege of representing during my 35 years as a player agent. And I represented many great athletes,” Tellem said Sunday in a statement. “I’ve known Kobe since he was a 17-year-old senior at Lower Merion High on Philadelphia's Main Line. He had a fearsome intellectual curiosity and his enthusiasm was contagious.

“The glint in his eyes wasn't just joy: It was sparks from a fire that couldn't be tamped down. To him, anything less than the best was failure.”

The Pistons also released a statement, reading in part: “Kobe entertained & embraced fans in every arena he touched, and he will be remembered by Pistons’ fans for the memorable moments he delivered each year at The Palace throughout his 20-year NBA career as well as his lasting impact on the game of basketball both on & off the court.

“The Detroit Pistons organization joins the entire NBA family in expressing our sorrow regarding the unexpected passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and the other victims.”

Bryant’s last game at The Palace of Auburn Hills, on Dec. 6, 2015, was less than memorable, with just five points — on 2-of-15 shooting — but his career was so much more. That was his third-lowest production in a game that season. Then, of course, there was the 60-point game in his regular-season finale.

In Game 2 of the 2004 Finals, he hit the tying jump shot over Richard Hamilton that sent the game to overtime and helped the Lakers win their only game of the series before the Pistons completed their “five-game sweep.”

Bryant followed the three-peat in 2000-02 with Shaquille O’Neal with another pair in 2009-10, cementing himself as one of the legends of his era, finishing his career third among the all-time leading scorers.

Even after his retirement, Bryant influenced his contemporaries and successors, including Pistons guard Derrick Rose, who was looking to remake his game by emulating what Bryant did to prolong his career.

“If the game goes back to all lay-ups and mid-range, I want to be able to do what Kobe did. He’s my example and the guy I look to and make sure I don’t change my game all the way,” Rose told The Detroit News.

“He didn’t change his game at all, but he was able to play 20 years and still be effective. That’s amazing to me. There aren’t too many people in NBA history, besides the greats, who can do that. I want to be considered one of them.”

Bryant didn’t have to be a Piston but he impacted the team all the same.

Cavaliers at Pistons

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (17-30) have lost three of their last four games following Saturday’s loss to the Nets, dropping them to 10th place in the East. The Cavaliers (12-34) have lost seven straight but won the last meeting against the Pistons in overtime.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard