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Kobe Bryant reportedly to play for Virtus Bologna

September 30, 2011 |  2:13 am

Kobe Bryant

Here's either a sign that at least part of the NBA season appears in jeopardy or that the timing could provide added leverage during negotiations. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reportedly reached a verbal agreement to play with the Italian professional basketball team Virtus Bologna. Bryant will earn $3 million, reports the Associated Press, for the first 40 days of the Italian League season beginning Oct. 9. Meanwhile, the NBA has delayed the start of training camp and canceled 43 exhibition games through Oct. 15.

"Deal is done at 95%," Virtus Bologna owner Claudio Sabatini told Sportando.

Considering Bryant sparked unsuccessful courtships from teams in Turkey and China, skepticism remains understandable. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarwoski reported via Twitter that "no agreement is imminent." Though the deal hasn't been finalized, the AP reports Bryant plans to get a work visa and return to Italy sometime next week to sign his contract. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick reports via Twitter that Bryant won't return from Italy in time to join LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant at Friday's meeting in New York between the NBA owners and players' union. 

Even ardent Bryant supporters expressed concern about him playing overseas. He enters his 16th NBA season having played in 1,311 games and compiled 48,310 minutes. He's continually monitoring various injuries, including a surgically repaired right knee, sprained left ankle and arthritic right index finger. Bryant's scoring average last season (25.3 points) marked his lowest output since the 2003-04 season (24 ppg), while his 33.9 minutes a game reflected his lowest average since his second season in the NBA.

Still, it appears Bryant's revelation in Italy this week that it's "very possible" he'd play there served more than just marketing hype surrounding his Nike promotional appearances.

"Italy is my home," said Bryant, who has three years and $83.5 million left on his Lakers contract. "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 … 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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--Mark Medina

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Photo credit: Wong Maye-E / Associated Press / September 17, 2011