Whenever there's a lockout in the NBA, other leagues get their chance to snatch away players from their teams. The uncertainty of the situation, the lack of basketball activity, and sure money are sometimes too good to pass up. In Kobe Bryant's case, he was offered a deal by an Italian team, and its owner claimed it was almost a done deal.
"Deal is done at 95%"
The lockout in 2011 delayed the season's opening if it even pushed through at all. Italian club Virtus Bologna dared to make a move on Kobe Bryant and must be applauded for having the courage or audacity to try. But, hey, shoot your shot, right? And if reports were to be believed, The Black Mamba almost signed the contract.
Kobe Bryant grew up in Italy and spoke fluent Italian. His first love was soccer. Meanwhile, his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, played for the Pallacanestro Reggiana. Kobe had emotional ties to the country, so it wouldn't be surprising if he made a move. The money was also decent. So why did the deal not push through?
The deal was allegedly worth $3 million for ten games, and the L.A. Lakers star could return to the US once the lockout ends and the NBA season starts. Virtus Bologna's owner Claudio Sabatini prematurely commented on the contract, and it may have been a factor why negotiations bogged down.
"First news is that we have reached an economic agreement with Kobe Bryant. Second is that I don't have that amount of money." While it may appear Sabatini was joking about not having the money, it might be true after all. "Deal is done at 95%," he added in an interview with Sportando republished by NBC Sports.
Claudio may have intentionally announced the development even though nothing was finalized yet to entice sponsors to help raise funds for Kobe's salary. Even if it was just for a few games, imagine the marketing opportunities that could happen with the jersey sales, merch, and promotional events. Had Bryant played in Italy, suddenly all the world would be watching the league. And that's something the NBA could not afford to happen.
Why the deal didn't push through
Bryant claimed it was his dream to play for Italy. Realistically, it was wishful thinking for Virtus Bologna. There were a lot of legalities involved, including image rights. Also, playing outside the NBA risks injuries, and the L.A. Lakers wouldn't want to lose Kobe long-term. If it were other players, they would have signed it.
Aside from the commercial benefits, playing in Italy wouldn't add anything to Kobe Bryant's legacy. Instead, his focus was on the NBA and helping the Lakers win more titles. His deal wasn't long enough for the finals if ever Virtus Bologna makes it.
It would have been nice if it happened but pulling it off was more complicated than it looked.