Kobe Bryant hasn't left the NBA building
There’s a story from the 1950s when New York tabloid editors wracked their brains to come up with another angle after the sensational death of actor John Garfield and someone made the immortal suggestion:
John Garfield Still Dead.
The days-old-wishful-thinking-Kobe Bryant-to-Greece speculation morphed into a New York Times story Thursday with Olympiakos owner Panayiotis Angelopoulos, who’s reportedly ready with a tax-free, $60-million offer, a seaside villa and a yacht, declining to discuss Bryant directly but noting:
I think we’ll see a day when a superstar player comes to Europe, but to Olympiakos, not to another team. That is my answer. Maybe it will be very soon. Maybe then you realize what I’m telling you is serious.
At this point, it’s clear that A.) Angelopoulos is serious and B.) so what?
Aside from Bryant’s throwaway line on last summer’s Olympic tour about going overseas for $40 million a season, the odds that the superstar will be him are astronomical.
The odds that any actual NBA superstar will go overseas are similarly off the chart. There’s a much better chance that Olympiakos will get more players like Josh Childress, who was upset the Atlanta Hawks were so casual in negotiations, knowing they had the right to match any NBA offer, never dreaming he’d go to Europe.
If Childress plays two seasons in Greece—he can opt out after any season in his three-year $20 million deal--he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the NBA. As far as Olympiakos is concerned, any NBA player like Childress is a superstar and his signing, indeed, stunned the basketball world.
Why an actual NBA superstar would want to hide out overseas is something else. For Bryant or LeBron James, their teams’ enthusiasm isn’t an issue and they already have leverage.
Bryant will be unrestricted next summer. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are in the class of 2010, which has teams all over the NBA dumping salary in anticipation. In 2011, it’ll be Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
For NBA superstars, it’s a matter of finding the perfect team. As ready as Bryant was to leave last season, he was only going to a major market -- to retain his commercial cachet -- in the East, where he’d have a chance to reach the Finals.
Only one team fit: Chicago. Since no deal with the Bulls worked, that ended that.
The big guys also tend to have big sneaker hookups, like the multimillion-dollar deals Bryant and James have with Nike, and the company's preferences count. It can hardly be reassuring to the Cavaliers to see Nike market a LeBron shoe regionally in New York City, as the Knicks and Nets prepare to court James.
If some Chinese team wants to get into the game, Nike might be inclined to think out of the box -- but Western Europe, not so much.
In any case, the joke has gone on too long for Bryant, who laughed it off last week (“It’s just something that was a joke for us and people took it and ran with it or whatever. That’s fine. Everybody needs to banter about something.”)
Knowing what was coming, Bryant made it clear he didn’t want to hear about it at practice Wednesday, announcing, “Don’t ask me nothing silly.”
When he was asked about the Olympiakos speculation, he replied, “Next question.”
OK, how about Asia for $100 million annually, a seaside province and his own naval fleet?
-- Mark Heisler
Photo: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times