Commentary

What are Kobe Bryant's priorities?

Updated: October 3, 2011, 3:17 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNLosAngeles.com

In the midst of contentious collective bargaining negotiations between NBA players and owners in New York on Friday, Kobe Bryant, the biggest star of them all these days, was making noise in the headlines with reports that he's ready to go and play overseas in Italy.

[+] EnlargeTBD
AP Photo/Luca BrunoAccording to the president of Virtus Bologna, the team is "optimistic" Bryant will sign for 30 to 45 days during the lockout for $3 million.

According to the president of Virtus Bologna, the team is "optimistic" Bryant will sign for 30 to 45 days during the lockout for $3 million, regardless of scheduling problems posed by other teams. According to ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher, Bryant is adamant that revenue from his presence in Italy benefit all 17 teams in the league's Series A division, and not just Virtus.

But according to the laws of common sense, Bryant's motives are indicative of a player who is going to get his dollars, regardless of what kind of dilemma such a scenario creates for Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and the other players fighting for a new multibillion-dollar collective bargaining agreement. Yet, ironically, Bryant's solo act may very well turn out to be what ultimately gets this lockout resolved.

If Bryant is getting paid, why wouldn't everyone else decide to as well? Why would the majority of players stand around and continue to fight for the $2.1 billion in revenue they and their peers stand to share in if a full season is played -- considerably lower than the 57 percent of basketball-related income they've earned over the last decade -- when stars like Bryant have displayed their reluctance to do so themselves?

Chances are, NBA players will do nothing of the kind because they can't afford to do so. History has shown once the games are missed, whatever deals were on the table beforehand will cease to exist and matters will only get worse.

So you can forget about the possibility of a fragmented season, similar to the 50-game lockout-shortened season that took place in 1998-99. As a result, don't bother anticipating kindness and understanding from owners, already in no mood to be compassionate in the face of multi-millionaire players behaving in a way that says they are convinced they're being insulted.

After fighting off the temptation to ask, "Who the hell do these players think they are," the owners will undoubtedly continue to pursue more financial stability. Commissioner David Stern will help them do so while still trying to save the season. Yet, even though he probably would've preferred Bryant be in attendance Friday -- as opposed to Wade, who Stern reportedly argued with in heated fashion -- it appears as if Bryant may directly impact these negotiations, whether he's in attendance or not.

Show up and every owner will figuratively stand at attention, knowing they'll need to listen to the five-time champion who's validated his earnings with unparalleled work ethic and dedication throughout his career.

Stay away while continuing to entertain overseas offers and Bryant relegates himself to the modern-day prima donna, quietly highlighted as an example of the players' unwillingness to protect and elevate the NBA brand.

If the latter happens, it significantly strips the players of any leverage they may have in the court of public opinion. A prolonged lockout culminating in missed games will only make matters worse. Then the players will have nowhere to go but back to the negotiating table, with their leverage officially zapped.

That doesn't apply to Bryant, however. It never has. Never will.

Unless, of course, he reveals that he cares about the future of the league much more than he cares about himself.

Follow Stephen A. Smith on Twitter: @stephenasmith.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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