NBA PM: Kobe Bryant Returning to Italy?
Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has been the free agent prize of the international basketball community as the NBA deals with its ongoing lockout. First Turkey’s Besiktas, which had already signed Nets guard Deron Williams, made a fruitless run at Bryant, then a Chinese team reportedly took a shot, and now Virtus Bologna has offered Bryant a $6.7 million one-year deal, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Bryant, who spent several of his younger years in Italy as his father played for four different teams on the peninsula, speaks the language and has often stated his fondness for the country.
Virtus Bologna general manager Massimo Faraoni told the AP that the negotiations are ongoing and have involved Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, as well as the team president and the main sponsor, Canadian Solar. However Canadian Solar claims it has no direct involvement with the negotiations.
“The contract is being negotiated between Virtus and Kobe Bryant’s agent,” the company claimed in a statement. “Canadian Solar is not at the negotiating table.”
Faroni told the AP that he remembers seeing Bryant play as a child when he was in the youth program of the Italian team Pistoia.
“I saw him when he was a kid, and he already had a lot of passion for the game then” Faroni said.
Virtus, winner of 15 Italian titles, has reportedly reached out to Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, but there hasn’t been any movement on that front.
“I think we already have a competitive squad for Serie A, but Kobe is obviously a great champion and eh would make a great addition to the team,” Faraoni said. “I would put us just behind Milano and Siena.”
Virtus reportedly gave Bryant multiple contract offers, but all would allow him to return to the NBA once the lockout ended.
Lockout-shortened 1999 Season Ranks Among NBA’s Best
The NBA was going through the perfect storm of negative publicity in 1998. Even before the lockout had dragged into February of 1999, Michael Jordan had announced his retirement and the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty quickly crumbled into the Tim Floyd era.
The All-Star Game—one of the league’s biggest sponsor-driven cash cows—was cancelled; the season was reduced to 50 games; and the top pick of the 1998 draft, Michael Olowokandi, proved to be dreadful (somehow he made the All-Rookie second team, but that was clearly a major mistake).
Worst of all, television ratings fell off a cliff. The 1998 NBA Finals had the highest average Nielsen rating in league history (18.7), but the 1999 Finals—the first time since 1995 in which a Jordan-led Bulls team did not participate—netted only an 11.3 average rating (The Cavaliers and Spurs had the worst average Finals rating ever in 2007: 6.2).
The NBA may not have been a high-grossing league in 1999, but it was undeniably engrossing. The fans that stuck around were treated to five months of some of the most compelling basketball the league has ever produced. Franchises that were feeling the effects from the shortened season put extra emphasis on the playoffs and postseason dollars; and the intensity trickled down to the players. Lifeless March games suddenly became heavyweight fights.
Suddenly new contenders were emerging. The Spurs had always been a tough matchup throughout the 90s, but now, with Tim Duncan paired with David Robinson, San Antonio was finally ready to move past Utah and Houston out West. Best of all, the trade that sent Chris Webber from Washington to Sacramento didn’t ruin the big man’s career—it catalyzed it.
Webber led the league with 13.0 RPG and, along with Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Jason Williams, helped turn the moribund Kings franchise into a playoff team. Coach Rick Adelman hired former Princeton coach Pete Carril and the NBA, which had been suffering through plodding isolation plays and post-ups for most of the decade, could boast a truly dynamic offense.
The regular season was comparatively brief, but the ascension of the Kings and Spurs was more than enough entertainment for hardcore NBA fans. And when the eighth-seeded Knicks upset the Eastern Conference favorite Miami HEAT, the whole season became surreal.
Fans had grown accustomed to the NBA’s hierarchy. Teams don’t go to the Finals out of nowhere. They incrementally improve every season until they vanquish whatever team obstructed them from advancing. In the early 80s the Celtics overcame the Sixers before ultimately losing ground to the Pistons. The Pistons soon gave way to the Bulls, and when that dynasty ended the previous season, the HEAT seemed to step into the spotlight.
But the new-look Knicks, who had barely made the playoffs after 50 injury-plagued regular season games, were suddenly impossible to score against. Even as Patrick Ewing struggled with an Achilles’ tendon injury, New York became more and more stifling under the guidance of head coach Jeff Van Gundy and assistant Tom Thibodeau. Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas held down the post (they even dusted off Herb Williams), Latrell Sprewell and Charlie Ward covered the perimeter, and Allan Houston and Larry Johnson started hitting improbable shots (most notably was Johnson’s four-point play against the Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals).
The Finals weren’t as compelling as the rest of the playoffs, but it was somehow fulfilling to see Robinson and the Spurs capture their first Larry O’Brien Trophy. Until that moment, Robinson seemed destined to join George Gervin and Terry Cummings as very good players who ultimately failed to make the Spurs a nationally relevant team. But with Duncan on board, Robinson was invigorated. He no longer had to carry the load on offense and defense, which helped him shake off the back and foot injuries he suffered through just a few years earlier. Avery Johnson’s game-winning shot in Game 5 of the Finals was the most fitting ending to an unexpected year. A player who supposedly couldn’t shoot was put the final touches on an NBA Finals matchup that no one could have predicted.
The reason 1999 was so memorable—even if national audiences barely noticed—was that the NBA was suddenly unpredictable again. As bad as the lockout was, nobody cared once the season was finally started. Players played. Coaches coached. And because Jordan and the Bulls essentially disintegrated, a cavalcade of new and interesting teams made a run for the title.
Maybe the NBA doesn’t have all the same ingredients this time around. And, assuming the beginning of the season is lost much like it was back in the fall of 1998, fans aren’t going to rush back to NBA arenas. But if the last lockout taught us anything, it’s that fans will ultimately rediscover their love for basketball. The game is too compelling, too exhilarating and too unpredictable to be ignored.
Check Out: Forbes 400
The “Forbes 400,” much like any NBA roster, is a list of people that make more money than you. Now the NBA has enough owners on the Forbes 400 to fill an NBA roster.
Over a dozen owners and minority NBA owners made the Forbes 400 list—which is limited to Americans—including Blazers owner Paul Allen (23rd overall with $13.2 billion), Magic owner Richard DeVos (No. 60, $5 billion), HEAT owner Micky Arison (No 75, $4.2 billion), Nuggets owner Stan Kroenkoe (No. 107, $3.2 billion), Pistons owner Tom Gores (No. 159, $2.5 billion), Mavericks owner Mark Cuba (No. 171, $2.3 billion), Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor (No. 242, $1.8 billion), Pacers owner Herb Simon (No. 273, $1.6 billion), Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (No. 293, $1.5 billion), Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley (No. 293, $1.5 billion), Clippers owner Donald Sterling ($1.5 billion) and 76ers owner Joshua Harris (No. 309, $1.45 billion).
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