The Lakers were looking to trade their starting center Vlade Divac for a player's draft rights to free up salary-cap space to make an offer to free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal. Bill Branch, the Hornets' head scout at the time, said that the Hornets agreed to trade their draft selection at #13 to the Lakers the day before the draft. Before the trade agreement, the Hornets never considered drafting Bryant. During the draft, the Lakers told the Hornets whom to select minutes before the pick was made.
Centennial Olympic Park was designed as the "town square" of the Olympics, and thousands of spectators had gathered for a late concert and merrymaking. Sometime after midnight, July 27, 1996, Eric Robert Rudolph, a terrorist who would later bomb a lesbian nightclub and two abortion clinics, planted a green backpack containing a fragmentation-laden pipe bomb underneath a bench. Jewell was working as a security guard for the event.
On October 26, 1996, the investigating US Attorney, Kent Alexander, in an extremely unusual act, sent Jewell a letter formally clearing him, stating "based on the evidence developed to date ... Richard Jewell is not considered a target of the federal criminal investigation into the bombing on July 27, 1996, at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta".
As a rookie in 1996–97, Bryant mostly came off the bench behind guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. At the time he became the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game (18 years, 72 days; a record since broken by Jermaine O'Neal and former teammate Andrew Bynum), and also became the youngest NBA starter ever (18 years, 158 days). Initially, Bryant played limited minutes, but as the season continued, he began to see some more playing time.
On December 17, 1996, O'Neal shoved Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls; Rodman's teammates Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan restrained Rodman and prevented further conflict. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that O'Neal was willing to be suspended for fighting Rodman, and O'Neal said: "It's one thing to talk tough and one thing to be tough."