Schedule issues threaten Kobe Bryant's plans for Italy

By Andrew Dampf

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

ROME — Scheduling problems with other Italian clubs were threatening to derail plans for Kobe Bryant to play for Virtus Bologna during the NBA lockout.

Bologna President Claudio Sabatini had told an Italian radio station Friday the deal was "95 percent done," and a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press that Bryant would be paid $3 million for the opening 40 days of the Italian league season — a period of about 10 games.

Bologna has requested to play five of its opening 10 games at home. A few other teams, however, don't want to change their schedules to accommodate the Los Angeles Lakers' star.

"With great surprise, Virtus Basketball notes that, due to the negative view of some clubs, it's not possible to go forward with the 10-game agreement, therefore putting in serious doubt the economic deal behind the plan to bring Kobe Bryant to Italy," a statement on Bologna's website said.

The person familiar with the negotiations said smaller clubs Cremona and Varese were refusing to alter their schedules. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.

"We've got a chance to bring Bryant here ... and the nearsightedness of other clubs is making it impossible," Sabatini told Italy's Sky TV. "If we were at the end of the season, with clubs fighting to avoid relegation or for the playoffs, I would understand. But now nobody has anything on the line."

Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Italy, was in the country for sponsor appearances the past two days. He was to be in New York for NBA labor talks Friday.

Virtus had been set to open the season Oct. 9 against Roma, but schedules need to be reworked after Venezia was added to the league as a 17th team. Sabatini wants to create a special schedule that assigns Bryant's games to Italy's biggest arenas.

"This is an important investment and a unique chance for the city of Bologna and all of Italian basketball," Sabatini told the radio station earlier. "I'm hoping everyone wants to collaborate."

Bologna would need to have the deal signed by the end of next week to register Bryant with the Italian league before the season starts.

"We have reached an economic deal," Sabatini said. "There's still some things to arrange, but at this point I'm very optimistic. I would say it's 95 percent done."

The deal would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends. The 33-year-old Bryant has three years and $83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers, who could void the deal if Bryant is injured playing abroad.

Before the scheduling issues arose, Sabatini had said Bryant was expected to 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," he 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."

Between ages 6 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.

Kobe Bryant, who still speaks Italian well, 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."

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