While the prospects of a normal tipoff to the National Basketball Association season continues to slip away, league stars are still being pursued. Rumors have swirled all summer around the possibility of Los Angeles Lakers star forward Kobe Bryant traveling east to an Italian League team, Virtus Bologna and it now appears the club has put the talks into fast forward.
The Italian club has offered Bryant between $1 million and $2 million dollars to play in just one exhibition game according to various Italian reports quoted by ESPN.
“Negotiations with Mr. Kobe Bryant have been very difficult,” Vicenzo Di Schiavia, the team's communications manager said in an interview with ESPN. “We will not make any comment for now.”
A Bryant defection to Italy could open the floodgates for several other NBA stars to join should the 2011-2012 campaign be derailed by the ongoing labor dispute.
But the rush to sign players is muted by the prospect that a marquee NBA player could leave a foreign team should the impasse be resolved. Foreign teams, where league play is already underway, are likely to be reluctant to sign players who will leave abruptly to return to the NBA, the New York Times reported.
A resumption of NBA activity could be the result of a mediation effort scheduled to start Oct. 18 when both sides are to sit down with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
NBA commissioner David Stern announced recently that the entire NBA preseason and first two weeks of the regular season would be cancelled due to the dispute. A monetary rift between the owners and players threatens to hit the NBA with its second lockout in nearly a decade. A similar dispute in 1999 resulted in the league forfeiting the first 32 games of the 1999 season.
“This is the worst-case scenario,” Billy Hunter, NBA Player’s Union leader told reporters recently. “We don't want to go through a protracted lockout. We don't want to damage the games. Everybody is talking about the economy and with this, there will be a lot of people impacted.”
Affected people could range from fans to stadium workers but clearly the players will be hit hard from a salary-less season, an aspect that is playing right into international club owners’ hands. So far, a number of players have signed on with international clubs for the upcoming season, including notable names such as New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson and his teammate forward Kenyon Martin, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah.
Several league superstars have openly flirted with the idea of playing abroad through the media such as Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay. Bryant’s childhood link to Italy—where he lived while his father played Italian basketball — makes him a natural candidate to return but to snag a marquee name like of Bryant apparently requires a lot more work, and patience.