ROME (AP) – Kobe Bryant has been offered a $6.7 million, one-season contract to play for the Italian team Virtus Bologna, appealing to his childhood memories of growing up in the country.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar spent part of his youth in Italy while his father played there. He speaks Italian, prompting Bologna to hope he might return if there’s an NBA lockout.
Virtus Bologna general manager Massimo Faraoni tells The Associated Press he’s been on conference calls between Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, Bologna president Claudio Sabatini and main sponsor Canadian Solar, which would provide the cash for such a deal.
“I think the fact that he’s lived in Italy makes this appealing to him,” Faraoni said.
Virtus has given Bryant four different contract options, stretching from the one-year deal to two-month and one-month options, and a per-game deal that would come out to $739,640 per home game.
All of the offers are pretax and would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends.
Turkish club Besiktas and at least one team in China have expressed interest in the 33-year-old Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and been an All-Star 13 times.
Faraoni watched Bryant when he played in Pistoia’s youth system in the late 1980s.
“I saw him when he was a kid, and he already had a lot of passion for the game then,” Faraoni said.
Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played in Italy with Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggiana from 1984-1991. The elder Bryant now coaches the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.
Virtus also reached out to Manu Ginobili, who played with Bologna before joining the San Antonio Spurs in 2002. Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari rejoined his former Italian club Olimpia Milano on Tuesday.
Other NBA players are committing to play in leagues outside the United States.
Nuggets free agents Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith plan to play in China, Denver’s Ty Lawson will play in Lithuania and New Jersey Nets All-Star Deron Williams signed with Turkish club Besiktas.
Virtus has won 15 Italian league titles but none since 2001, when it also won the Euroleague for the second time.
Virtus has asked fans to send messages supporting the recruitment of Bryant to a “Bologna for Bryant” email address, which will be published on the team’s website.
Bologna opens the Italian league against Roma on Oct. 9. It 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 last season.
“I think we already have a competitive squad for Serie A, but Kobe is obviously a great champion and he would make a great addition to the team,” Faraoni said. “I would put us just behind Milano and Siena.”
The NBA season usually begins in late October 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.