It appears this weekend will be make-or-break time at the bargaining table as NBA owners and players try to close the massive financial gulf between them and settle on a new collective bargaining agreement in time to salvage the 2011-12 season.
If they fail, it looks increasingly likely that Kobe Bryant will accept a $3 million contract offer to play for Virtus Bologna in Italy.
Earlier this week the Los Angeles Lakers star told the Gazzetta dello Sport, “It’s very possible. It would be a dream for me.”
That dream may soon become a reality. Virtus President Claudio Sabatini told a local radio station that the deal is all but done.
“We have reached an economic deal. There’s still some things to arrange, but at this point I’m very optimistic. I would say it’s 95 percent done.
But news trickled out of Italy on Friday afternoon, indicating that other Italian league teams may not be so welcoming to Bryant’s arrival. Bologna has requested to play five of its first 10 games at home to maximize Bryant’s exposure for the team, but opponents are not eager to rework their schedules to make that happen. Bologna posted a statement on its Web-site saying other clubs were putting the negotiations “in serious” doubt.
The contract — one of several options Virtus made — would pay Bryant $3 million for the first 40 games of the Italian league season, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told the Associated Press on Friday. The deal would last about 10 games and enables Bryant to immediately return to the Lakers should the lockout end.
Bryant lived in Italy as a child while his father, Joe Bryant, played with several Italian league teams from 1984-91. He still speaks the language well and two days ago spoke with Gazzetta dello Sport about his childhood memories.
“Italy is my home. It’s where my dream of playing in the NBA started. This is where I learned the fundamentals, learned to shoot, to pass and to (move) without the ball. All things that when I came back to America the players my age didn’t know how to do because they were only thinking about jumping and dunking.”
Sabatini said the team expects Bryant — who will be in New York today for labor talks — to be in Bologna late next week to complete the signing process and get medical clearance. Virtus is currently set to open its season on Oct. 9, but that schedule is subject to change.