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Kobe Bryant agrees to play in Italy during NBA lockout

By Andrew Dampf

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 9:12 a.m. MDT

U.S. basketball player Kobe Bryant greets a fan at the Campidoglio, or capitol hill, in Rome, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. Bryant said it was "very possible" he will play in Italy during the NBA lockout, adding that the country is like "home" to him since he spent part of his childhood there.

Riccardo De Luca, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ROME — Italian club Virtus Bologna said it has reached a verbal agreement with Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers star to play in Italy during the NBA lockout.

The sides have settled on a $3 million contract for the opening 40 days of the Italian league season, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday.

Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Italy, was in the country for sponsor appearances over the past two days but was flying back to the U.S. for labor talks with the NBA on Friday.

Bryant will get a work visa and return to Italy next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has still not been signed.

Virtus had been due to open the season Oct. 9 against Roma, but schedules now need to be reworked after Venezia was added to the league as a 17th team.

The deal, which would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends, should last about 10 games.

Bologna president Claudio Sabatini wants to create a special schedule that assigns Bryant's games to Italy's biggest arenas.

The 33-year-old Bryant has three years and $83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers.

Between the ages of six and 13, Bryant lived in Italy when his father Joe Bryant played with Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggiana from 1984-91. The elder Bryant also once owned a small part of Olimpia Milano. He now coaches the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.

The younger Bryant still speaks Italian fairly well, and discussed his memories of his time in the country during an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport two days ago.

"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 told the Italian newspaper. "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 that playing in Italy "would be a dream for me."

Bryant has been bothered in recent seasons by an arthritic joint in his right knee, which has required several minor operations. He sat out a majority of the Lakers' practices last season and saw his scoring, shooting percentage and minutes decrease in his 15th NBA season.

Turkish club Besiktas and at least one team in China had also expressed interest in Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and been an All-Star 13 times.

Bologna also recently approached Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili, who played with the club before joining San Antonio in 2002. Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari rejoined his former Italian club Olimpia Milano last week.

The NBA season is scheduled to open Nov. 1 but owners and players have failed to agree on a new labor 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.

Last week, NBA officials announced the postponement of training camp and the cancellation of 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 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 before last season.

Having mingled with fans in Milan on Wednesday, Bryant also received a warm welcome in Rome on Thursday, where he was brought to the Campidoglio museum to be given a commemorative medal from the 1960 Rome Olympics.

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