ROME - Italian club Virtus Bologna has offered Kobe Bryant a euro5 million ($6.72 million) one-season contract during the NBA lockout.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar spent part of his childhood in Italy while his father played in the country and he speaks Italian (see video below), prompting Bologna to hope he might want to return.
Virtus general manager Massimo Faraoni told The Associated Press on Friday that he has sat in on conference calls between Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, Bologna president Claudio Sabatini and main sponsor Canadian Solar, which would provide the cash for such a deal.
"I think the fact that he's lived in Italy makes this appealing to him," Faraoni said.
Virtus has given Bryant four different contract options, stretching from the one-year deal to two-month and one-month options, or a per-game deal that would work out to euro550,000 ($739,640) per home game.
All of the offers are pretax and would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends.
Turkish club Besiktas and at least one team in China have also expressed interest in the 33-year-old Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and been an All-Star 13 times.
Virtus has won 15 Italian league titles but none since 2001, when it also won the Euroleague for the second time.
Virtus has asked fans to send messages supporting the recruitment of Bryant to a "Bologna for Bryant" email address, which will then be published on the team's website.
Bologna opens the Italian league against Roma on Oct. 9. It 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 for last season.
"I think we already have a competitive squad for Serie A, but Kobe is obviously a great champion and he would make a great addition to the team," Faraoni said. "I would put us just behind Milano and Siena."
Faraoni watched Bryant when he played in Pistoia's youth system in the late 1980s.
"I saw him when he was a kid, and he already had a lot of passion for the game then," Faraoni said.
Bryant's father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, played in Italy with Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggiana from 1984 to 1991. The elder Bryant now coaches the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.
Virtus has also reached out to another NBA star, Manu Ginobili, who played with Bologna before joining the San Antonio Spurs in 2002, although Ginobili said he wanted to wait before considering a return.
Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari rejoined his former Italian club Olimpia Milano on Tuesday, and other NBA players are also committing to play in leagues outside the United States.
Nuggets free agents Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith plan to play in China, Denver's Ty Lawson will play in Lithuania and New Jersey Nets All-Star Deron Williams signed with Turkish club Besiktas.
The NBA season usually begins in late October but owners and players have so far 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.