Italian club still courting Kobe Bryant
The Italian team Virtus Bologna says its top offer to Kobe Bryant is a one-year contract worth $5 million US.
With NBA players locked out, Virtus hopes the Los Angeles Lakers star agrees to a deal before he arrives in Italy this week for a tour arranged by one of his sponsors.
"An Italian brand well known around the world" is prepared to provide cash for the deal, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday, indicating the unidentified company is not Bologna's main sponsor, Canadian Solar.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing, said the other offers on the table include a two-month deal worth nearly $2 million, a one-month contract for $1.3 million or $900,000 for only one game.
All of the offers are pre-tax and would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends. Bryant spent part of his youth in Italy while his father played in the country and he speaks Italian, prompting Bologna to hope he might return for sentimental reasons.
The person said there have been nightly conference calls between Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, and Bologna President Claudio Sabatini.
The Turkish club Besiktas and at least one team in China have also expressed interest in the 33-year-old Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and been an All-Star 13 times.
Bryant's father, Joe Bryant, played in Italy with Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggiana from 1984-91. The elder Bryant now coaches the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.
Virtus also recently reached out to Manu Ginobili, who played with Bologna before joining the San Antonio Spurs in 2002. Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari rejoined his former Italian club Olimpia Milano last week.
Other NBA players are also committing to play in leagues outside the United States.
Nuggets free agents Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith plan to play in China, Denver's Ty Lawson will play in Lithuania and New Jersey Nets All-Star Deron Williams signed with Besiktas.
The NBA season usually begins in late October but owners and players have failed to agree on a new labour deal. The two sides are at odds over how to divide the league's revenue, a salary cap structure and the length of guaranteed contracts.
On Friday, the NBA postponed training camp indefinitely and cancelled 43 preseason games.
Virtus has won 15 Italian league titles but none since 2001, when it also won the Euroleague for the second time.
Bologna opens the Italian league against Roma on Oct. 9. It did not qualify for this season's Euroleague, although the team has big ambitions after signing former Clemson point guard Terrell McIntyre, who led Siena to four consecutive Italian titles before transferring to Malaga in Spain for last season.