By Matt Moore
Sonny Vaccaro is a big name in the basketball business. So when he pipes up and says something like, "Kobe Bryant will go to play in China and Nike will pay him for it," people's ears are going to perk up. That's exactly what Vacarro, the man who signed Jordan to Nike and the former head of the ABCD camp, said Wednesday on Memphis radio host Chris Vernon's show (via Twitter).
Even as respected as Vaccaro is among industry executives, this should be taken with a grain of salt. SBNation Los Angeles lays out where Vaccaro has been off in the past, including saying Chicago was the best best for LeBron last summer, that Tracy McGrady had the most talent he'd ever seen, and that Bryant would leave the Lakers after 2009 to play in Europe. Now, the first two are not so crazy upon further inspection.
Chicago really was the best fit for James last summer. The core of Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah would have given him a stronger overall supporting cast than what he has in Miami, and Tom Thibodeau's defensive acumen would have done wonders with that kind of talent. McGrady really was one of the most talented players people had ever seen, and that's what led to nearly MVP seasons in Orlando (had they won any games). As for the last charge, Vaccaro really only said it would be a "great possibility" that Bryant would head overseas in 2009, not that he was sure to go. There's a big difference there. A "great possibility" is entirely different from an outright prediction.
But what Vaccaro said on the radio Wednesday is a different matter. If Vaccaro, who has extensive ties to the shoe industry, is predicting a Nike investment in Bryant playing overseas, that could be a game changer. Having an entity like Nike willing to push Bryant financially in order to expand their Asian market would make things wholly different for whatever team was looking to sign him.
But would Nike be willing to risk damaging a relationship with the NBA by sending one of their biggest stars to make money in the lockout? What about the proposed rule change which would restrict players from having NBA opt-outs to return if the lockout ends? What about the fact that the idea of Bryant playing anywhere else during the lockout seems completely insane to most people?
Vaccaro is a big voice, but not a surefire predictor, and there are too many factors in play here to think this will actually happen. So we'll stay skeptical of something unlikely occurring, much as we were about the idea of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh teaming up on the same team. How crazy was that?