The late Kobe Bryant played a role in the Dodgers’ free agency pitch to Shohei Ohtani, who called it a “highlight” of the meeting.
When word broke that Shohei Ohtani was signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a record 10-year, $700 million contract — that features an insane $680 million in deferred money — there was plenty of wonder as to what exactly drew the two-way superstar across town from the Angels to the Dodgers.
The chance to win, naturally, was high on the list, as the Dodgers are perennial contenders and part of the reason Ohtani deferred almost all of his contract was to ensure they could keep bolstering the roster around him. However, the Dodgers weren’t going to simply rely on their reputation as a contender and gobs of money to finish the deal, as they made a complete pitch to Ohtani to try and ensure he knew how important they viewed him as a potential L.A. sports icon.
To do so, they relied on a video they’d shot six years ago when Ohtani was making his decision on who to sign with as he left Japan, but its message was arguably more powerful in 2023. That’s because it was a video from Kobe Bryant, which Jeff Passan of ESPN reports was one of the “highlights” of the meeting for Ohtani and meant a lot to him.
Back in 2017, Bryant had filmed the clip as a favor to the team. Now, more than three years after his death in a helicopter crash, Bryant’s reputation as the ultimate competitor spans all sports, and his message to Ohtani registered the same posthumously in 2023 as it would have then: There’s no better place in the world to win than Los Angeles, and there’s no better team in baseball to win with than the Dodgers.
“That was one of the highlights of the whole meeting,” Ohtani told ESPN through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “I was really surprised to see it. It was a strong and touching message.”
When Bryant said Ohtani’s name, it took him aback. They never met, but Ohtani marveled at his commitment, to his craft, to his sport, to his team. Mizuhara, who is as much consigliere to Ohtani as the conduit for his words, grew up in Los Angeles and understood what it meant for Bryant to vouch for the Dodgers. A minute of his time, of the presence he still casts, felt like a wonderful eternity.
You never know exactly what is going to draw a player in during a free agency pitch, and Ohtani very well could’ve opted to join the Dodgers no matter what. However, having an ace in the hole in the form of a recruitment pitch from Kobe Bryant, vouching for the Dodgers organization and their commitment to winning, certainly didn’t hurt their cause in landing one of the greatest baseball players of all-time.