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APNewsBreak: Virtus says deal done for Kobe Bryant

- Associated Press - Friday, September 30, 2011

ROME (AP) - Italian club Virtus Bologna has reached a verbal agreement with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant to play in Italy during the NBA lockout.

The sides have settled on a $3 million contract for the opening 40 days of the Italian league season, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday.

Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Italy, was in the country for sponsor appearances over the past two days but was flying back to the U.S. for labor talks with the NBA on Friday.

Bryant will get a work visa and return to Italy next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has still not been signed.

Virtus had been due to open the season Oct. 9 against Roma, but schedules now need to be reworked after Venezia was added to the league as a 17th team.

The deal, which would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends, should last about 10 games.

The 33-year-old Bryant spent several years 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.

The younger Bryant still speaks Italian fairly well, and discussed 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."

Bryant added that playing in Italy again "would be a dream for me."

Turkish club Besiktas and at least one team in China had also expressed interest in Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and been an All-Star 13 times.

Bologna also recently approached Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili, who played with the club before joining San Antonio in 2002. Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari rejoined his former Italian club Olimpia Milano last week.

The NBA season is scheduled to open Nov. 1 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.

Last week, NBA officials announced the postponement of training camps and the cancellation of 43 preseason games.

Virtus has won 15 Italian league titles but none since 2001, when it also won the Euroleague for the second time. Bologna 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 before last season.

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