- Associated Press - Friday, September 30, 2011

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

“We have reached an economic deal,” Virtus president Claudio Sabatini told a local radio station. “There’s still some things to arrange but at this point I’m very optimistic. I would say it’s 95 percent done.”

A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday that the sides have settled on a $3 million contract for the opening 40 days of the Italian league season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has still not been signed.

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 is expected to get a work visa and return to Italy next week.

“Kobe should be in Bologna by Wednesday or Thursday with his visa in hand for medical visits and then we can deposit the contract with the league,” Sabatini said. “I want to make clear that right now there are still no signatures. We’ve got to write the contract, which will then be read over and over again.”

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.

Sabatini wants to create a special schedule that assigns Bryant’s games to Italy’s biggest arenas.

“This is an important investment and a unique chance for the city of Bologna and all of Italian basketball,” Sabatini said. “I’m hoping everyone wants to collaborate.”

The 33-year-old Bryant has three years and $83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers.

Between the ages of six and 13, Bryant lived 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 his 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 “would be a dream for me.”

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