DILBECK: Kobe could be a trail blazer -- of the international kind -- and could say goodbye to L.A.
By Steve Dilbeck, Columnist
Article Last Updated: 09/18/2008 11:05:56 PM PDT
Kobe Bryant can opt out of his contract at the end of the season and... (AP
The last year of Kobe Bryant as a Laker.
Don't think it will happen? Maybe not, probably not.
But it absolutely could.
In 10 days the Lakers will gather at their training facility for their annual media day. Kobe's done these camp- opening inter- views and photo shoots now for 12 years. Professionally never been anything but a Laker.
Only next year he could be somewhere else. Like in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben or that other Colosseum.
Kobe can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Can become a complete free agent. Place bets he will.
He already indicated at the Beijing Olympics, he would entertain offers from European teams.
Preposterous? Outrageous? Kobe would never leave the greatest basketball league on the planet? Would never walk away from his beloved Lakers?
Really? Haven't you been paying attention?
He almost left once to be a Clipper. Tried to force the Lakers to trade him - when was that again? Oh, yeah - last summer.
Kobe is a perfect candidate to flee the NBA for Europe. Both in international stature and personal makeup. Both because of his European background and the economic sense.
"I think there is a great possibility, if for no other reason than he will make his value worth much more than anyone can imagine," said Sonny Vaccaro, the basketball guru. "For the first time, they'll actually be in competition."
Vaccaro pushed this possibility Wednesday as a guest on the Loose Cannons show on 570-AM. Mostly to deaf ears. Better that they perk up. Better than people understand this is a real possibility.
Which is not the same thing as saying it will happen, but if a Euro team is truly willing to spend $50 million per to sign a Kobe or LeBron James, they at least figure to listen.
And Kobe has that whole other singular player thing going for him. He goes his own way. Unafraid to rattle foundations.
Has almost unfathomable self-confidence in anything he does.
Vaccaro has known Kobe most of his life. Knew his parents, had Kobe in his national basketball camp. Understands his unique makeup.
"Kobe has his own mind," Vaccaro said. "He's bright. He could have gone to MIT and been successful. I watched his formative years. Even when he left adidas, he did it because it made good business sense. He made decisions. He's never been afraid.
"Kobe is his own man. One of the most unique people I've met in my 69 years."
Look at it this way, the first superstar who leaves the NBA for Europe will be a trailblazer. He will help legitimize international basketball. Will do something never done before.
Now who do you know that might appeal to?
Kobe was probably the most popular athlete at the Olympics. He is already an international icon. Spent eight years growing up in Italy. And has exactly the right kind of superego and temperament to buck the norm and be attracted to a new adventure, one never taken by Michael Jordan or anyone else.
"Are you kidding me?" Vaccaro said. "That cements everything.
"Kobe has a chance to add to his legend."
It isn't like he has a lot left to accomplish here. He's already won three NBA titles. Won a gold medal.
Does it sound so wild a new challenge would appeal to him?
The odd linchpin in this is the coming Lakers season.
Should the Lakers win the title, does he figure he's proved he could capture an NBA championship without Shaquille O'Neal and be more willing to move on or feel more attached to a young nucleus that could have more titles ahead?
Should the Lakers fail to win the title, does he come back more determined to try again or get upset and be more willing to exit?
"He wins the coin flip, both heads and tails," Vaccaro said. "If they win it, he's done everything and he owes nobody. If they don't win it, he's pissed off and says `I'm not going to stay here and not win another championship without Shaq. I'm gone.'
"I think Kobe has positioned himself perfectly."
All this presumes there are European owners actually deep enough to offer $50million a year.
That's near the two-year total he would be walking away from on his Laker contract should he opt out.
Vaccaro, who helped send former Dominquez prep star Brandon Jennings to Italy this fall, said most Americans are ignorant of the wealth of European ownership.
"Some of the owners in Europe have more money than the majority of owners in the NBA," he said. "It's a small number, but it's a fact. They're billionaires.
"The trouble with America is we think they're penny-ante. They're not. These individuals are very wealthy. They can do this."
As Vaccaro points out, it's in their best interest to try, if only for the publicity it generated.
And in Kobe's best financial interest to listen.
"A trailblazer? My, god, this is Kobe Bryant. It's not Brandon Jennings. It's not Josh Childress," Vaccaro said.
"This is Kobe Bryant. He's been acclaimed the greatest living player. His testament to basketball has been written. No one can deny him his greatness.
"I totally believe he will take it to the wall."
The Lakers, or any other team, are restricted as to how much they can offer. Maybe some side deal is arranged for team ownership, a la Magic Johnson and Jordan.
But they best understand there is now a new player in town. If not, this could be Kobe's last year in this one.
I know the automatic response would be bullcrap Sonny Vaccaro!!! But do you agree to some part that if Kobe was to win a title minus Shaq that he might seek international waters for new challenges?