With his multimillion-dollar endorsement deals and his All-Star NBA status, Kobe Bryant, 21, just seems primed to become the next ambassador of American basketball. But it’s his off-the-court moves that are attracting more international attention for the six-foot seven-inch Los Angeles Lakers guard. In a recent deal, Bryant became co-owner of an Italian league team, making him possibly the first athlete to acquire interest in a franchise while still active in the sport.
Bryant’s 50% interest in Milan, Italy-based Olimpia Milano of the Italian Professional Basketball League (IPBL), allows him to share ownership responsibilities with current Olimpia owner and Italian business magnate Pasquale Caputo. Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant, was named executive vice president of the franchise. Bryant is said to have chipped in $1 million of the more than $4 million reportedly spent to close the deal.
NBA regulations prohibit current players from owning a piece of its ball clubs, so the younger Bryant became interested in the overseas opportunity when approached by Caputo, said his agent, Arn Tellem, of SFX Sports.
“Our game plan has been to broaden Kobe beyond being an endorser of products. He’s always wanted to become an entrepreneur,” says Tellem. Bryant will spend some of the off-season with the team, while his father, who will be in Milan for about two weeks each month, is more involved in the organization’s management.
Bryant’s combined endorsement deals with companies like Adidas, Spalding, Nintendo, Columbia Records and GTE are said, by some, to rival his six-year, $70.8 million Lakers contract. His international dealings are likely to bring more global sponsors to Olimpia, which could likely benefit both the franchise and the IPBL.
Bryant said his decision to add partner to his résumé was both a sound business move as well as a fulfilling addition to his own entrepreneurial aspirations. “I loved growing up in Italy and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the country and the people,” Bryant says. “So when my NBA career is done, if all goes well, I’ll be over there.”