So says Virtus Bologna president Claudio Sabatini, who was also careful to emphasize that the contract has yet to be written up, much less read with a fine-toothed comb. Also, the remaining five percent odds could be problematic. According to Vitus' website, the rest of the league hasn't taken kindly to hosting the Kobe the ringer, which could jeopardize Bryant's participation. We'll see which side wins out.
Between Brian's two recent posts, and our podcasts with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard and the ubiqitous Bomani Jones, we've both made our opinions on this scenario abundantly clear. Thus, a full blown rehash feels unnecessary. In a nutshell, I believe this deal stems from a sincere desire to play in Kobe's childhood homeland (and, of course, buff out "the brand"), doesn't qualify as a pure money grab, and does the union little favors during 11th hour negotiations.
I'd also just as soon see Kobe pass the deal up because of my biggest concern, which is the risk of (at best) unnecessary wear and tear or (at worst) injury.
I've steadfastly insisted the odds of Bryant getting hurt in legitimate overseas competition are considerably higher than settings like the scrapped Chinese Barnstorming Tour, exhibition games in the Philippines or Drew League, since those friendlier environments are largely made up of NBA ballers all presumably respectful of their mutual circumstances. For those like my brother, an ostrich living in a dream world where the inherent risks are identical, I give you Daniel Hackett calling for a body bag.
Former USC guard Daniel Hackett, a dual citizen who plays for Pesaro in Italy, said he would give Bryant a hostile reception 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."
Bologna president Sabatini replied, "Fortunately not all Italian players think like Hackett."
I certainly hope not, but I'm betting more do than Sabatani acknowledges. Many players will undoubtedly view this as a PR tour masquerading as legitimate basketball, and while the money is peanuts by Kobe's standards, it's massive by the league's. There will be resentment, whether over the relative windfall or Bryant undoubtedly taking away a job from someone who needs it more.
And even without any hard feelings (or fouls), Kobe will also be dealing with competitive spirits that, like Spinal Tap's amps, "go to 11." Players will look to make their name against a legend, which means taking it to Bryant as hard as humanly possible every second of every game. And while I have my doubts about someone wired like The Mamba maintaining steady perspective in the face of dudes challenging him, that self control could be meaningless if everyone and their mother wants to test him.
Ultimately, I don't begrudge Kobe taking this deal, but I won't really feel good about it until he's stateside again. And without a visible limp.