Kobe Bryant and other key NBA players are in New York on Friday to negotiate a deal with the owners and commissioner David Stern to end the three-month-old lockout.
The players’ side may have their most influential bargaining chip on the table. after it was announced that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has agreed in principle to play for Italian club Virtus Bologna. The $3 million deal is only for the first 10 games of the season, according to the Associated Press.
However, Bryant is free to leave as soon as the lockout is over. He still has three years and $83.5 million remaining in his contract with the Lakers.
“We have reached an economic deal,” Virtus Bologna president Claudio Sabatini told a local radio station in Italy. “There's still some things to arrange, but at this point I'm very optimistic. I would say it's 95 percent done.”
There have been several NBA players who have decided to take their talents overseas during the labor unrests, but Bryant is the biggest name. This will also likely open the door for other NBA stars, like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, to sign with overseas clubs.
Sabatini has been in pursuit of Bryant for weeks. His presentation obviously made the most sense for Bryant, who spent several of his childhood years in Italy while his father played professional basketball there, and Bryant still speaks some Italian.
Bryant, 33, was over in Italy this week for some sponsorship appearances. He headed back to the United States on Thursday for the NBA players meetings with the owners. The hope is that significant progress will be made with the heavy-hitter players taking part in the negotiations.
But if talks break down, it appears Bryant will get a work visa and return to Italy next week.
“Kobe should be in Bologna by Wednesday or Thursday with his visa in hand for medical visits and then we can deposit the contract with the league,” Sabatini said. “I want to make clear that right now there are still no signatures. We've got to write the contract, which will then be read over and over again.”
Virtus’ season begins Oct. 9 against Roma. Bryant is expected to be a huge attraction in the city.
“This is an important investment and a unique chance for the city of Bologna and all of Italian basketball,” Sabatini said. “I'm hoping everyone wants to collaborate.”
(Photo: EPA/MATTEO BAZZI/LANDOV)