Kobe Bryant recently said it would be a dream to play in Italy. Well, that dream could soon become reality as Virtus Bologna says it has reached a verbal agreement with the 33-year-old Los Angeles Lakers superstar that would pay him $3 million to play 10 games in 40 days in the Italian League.
Assuming the NBA lockout persists, and there is a strong possibility the regular season won’t start on time, playing in Italy is the better option for Bryant. It is not like Kobe is getting a job at an exterior painting company in Vancouver. He’s going into an ideal situation. He can take his daughters on an extended European vacation, take his beautiful wife out shopping in Milan, enjoy some rest and relaxation in Venice, and play basketball on the side. That’s a great gig! Besides, playing in the Italian League is a heck of a lot better than running around the country looking for the next charity league game that hopefully includes some NBA players.
Kobe has already done Rucker Park and the Drew League and he absolutely dominated because, let’s face it, both were glorified scrimmages and the competition bordered on ridiculousness. Kobe loves a challenge and playing in the ultra-competitive environment of the Euroleague would be more beneficial to him than any Mike Brown training camp.
The deal includes a provision that would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers as soon as the lockout is lifted, so that should keep Jerry Buss from falling out of his poker chair. Virtus is trying to convince other Italian League owners to agree to changing the schedule so the deal is far from done, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard.
Broussard says Virtus – which hasn’t won a league title since 2001 – wants to load up home games in October and host them at larger arenas to accommodate the throngs of fans expected to flood the league from Oct. 9 to Nov. 16 if/when Kobe signs the contract. Broussard also reported that other Italian clubs may jump in and offer Kobe a better deal, so this could turn into a bidding war.
Several NBA players, including J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler, have signed to play overseas and Bucks forward Chris Douglas-Roberts signed with Virtus and is already practicing with the club. But having Kobe Bryant, arguably the most popular athlete in the worth, in the Italian League would be a monumental event. It would be comparable to watching the cast of “Jersey Shore” going an entire week without drinking alcohol and pumping their fists in Florence.
What makes this thing real enticing for Kobe is the fact that he has a soft spot for Italy. He spent the better part of his childhood there, it is place where he first fell in love with the game while watching his father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, and he speaks the language.
”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,” Bryant recently told Gazzetta dello Sport in fluent Italian. ”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.”
Bryant added, “It’s a huge honor for me to return to Italy. It’s home for me. It’s always been a dream for me to play in Italy. We’ve got to wait and see what happens.”
Here are two key issues for Bryant to consider: training camp with the Lakers won’t be the same this year and the season is not likely to start on time. The Lakers now have Mike Brown running the camp, and because of the lockout he won’t have a full training camp to implement his schemes and philosophies, it will be a total cram session. Also, Brown will be hard pressed to change the culture in L.A. in a month because he’s following the great Phil Jackson.
The Lakers ran the triangle offense for a decade and it resulted in five NBA championships. Brown has only been to the NBA Finals once and his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. There is nothing Brown can tell Kobe that Kobe has not heard before. This union is similar to the situation the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts endured when Jim Caldwell took over for Tony Dungy to coach Peyton Manning. Caldwell may be the coach in title, but the Colts are Manning’s team.
The same scenario for the Lakers. Brown may be the coach, but the Lakers are Kobe’s team. Basically, all Brown will be asked to do is manage Kobe’s minutes, and that is it. Would it surprise anyone if Kobe waved off Brown during the final 10 seconds of game? Not me. In fact, it wouldn’t be a total stretch to see Kobe call an audible and run an old Phil Jackson play instead of a new Mike Brown play.
So, if you are Kobe Bryant, here are your options: slog through an NBA boot camp with a coach who underachieved in Cleveland or spend a month in Italy where he’ll be treated like a god? It’s an easy choice.
Michael Jordan didn’t get the opportunity to play in Europe, so that’s one more reason for Bryant to consider.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him @twitter.com/onemanfastbreak.