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On Wednesday, Bryant mingled with fans in Milan. He also received a warm welcome in Rome on Thursday, where he was brought to the Campidoglio museum to receive a commemorative medal from the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Bryant has been bothered in recent seasons by an arthritic joint in his right knee that required several minor operations. He sat out most of the Lakers‘ practices last season, and his scoring, shooting percentage and minutes decreased in his 15th NBA season.

Former USC guard Daniel Hackett, a dual citizen who plays for Pesaro in Italy, knows how he would play Bryant if he faced the former NBA MVP.

“The only way to stop a player that good is with a hard foul and he knows that,” Hackett said. “I’ve got five fouls to commit and they’re going to be the hardest five fouls I’ve ever committed.”

Hackett also criticized speculation that Bologna will ask opposing clubs hosting Bryant’s away games to chip in a portion of ticket sales to help pay Bryant’s salary.

“I really hope Kobe doesn’t lower himself to this level for economic and commercial motives,” Hackett said, according to the Gazzetta. “To me, it would be a big disappointment to see him here under these circumstances, and a loss of respect for a player who is too big to dirty his hands in this league.”

Sabatini replied, “Fortunately not all Italian players think like Hackett.”

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 sides are at odds over how to divide the league’s revenue, a salary cap structure and the length of guaranteed contracts. Last week, the NBA postponed training camps and canceled 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. 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.