The “Will he or won’t he?” question has lingered for months around Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, as his flirtations with clubs in Turkey and China have led people to wonder whether he will play professionally overseas during the ongoing NBA lockout.
If you’re skeptical that an aging Bryant coming off of a knee injury and with the richest per-year contract in the NBA on the books already would actually take the plunge overseas if a work stoppage took place, you’re in good company. Basketball Hall of Famer and television commentator Charles Barkley couldn’t agree more.
“No, I don’t think Kobe Bryant is going to Turkey. Kobe Bryant, I want to get my numbers right, but I think he has three years and 83 million dollars, so could you imagine him going to Turkey or China for a couple of million dollars and blowing an Achilles or knee out? When you have 83 million dollars coming in the next three years, first of all you should already be financially set, but that’s too much to risk. You can’t risk that money playing overseas.”
In a totally free-market, global basketball economy, there’s no question that Bryant’s starpower and fame make him the most valuable player in the world from a financial perspective. The only player in the same stratosphere is Miami Heat forward LeBron James, but Bryant is more well-established, has a longer track record of winning and plays in a bigger market. He’s the Alpha Dog, no question about it.
But this summer’s long courtship between Bryant and his international suitors is only serving to remind us all that the Lakers remain the Alpha Dog franchise globally. Even the top reported offers to Bryant would pay him just a small fraction of his future salary with the Lakers. His financial best interest is — and will continue to be until he retires — in Los Angeles. There’s a mutually beneficial relationship between Bryant, the Lakers and the city that simply can’t be replicated anywhere else.
That doesn’t mean Bryant can’t cash in on his fame during a work stoppage. But, as Barkley and many others have noted, doing so in a professional, competitive setting would be extremely counterproductive in the bigger picture.