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Henry Liao

KOBE BRYANT: Lakers'$30-Million Man

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Money matters in the U.S. National Basketball Association are just as important as winning a championship.

Six NBA players are bankrolling at least $20 million in the ongoing 2013-14 season, including one injury-riddled superstar in rarefied $30 million range.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the No. 1 career scorer in franchise history and the fourth all-time leading scorer in NBA annals, is earning $30,453,805 this campaign as the circuit’s highest-salaried player.

The amount is fully guaranteed regardless of Bryant’s current health woes. The 6-7 backcourter sat out the 2013 playoffs last April and the Lakers’ first 19 regular assignments (10-9) while recovering from surgery for a torn left Achilles tendon last April.

The popular 35-year-old Bryant, who is in his 18th NBA campaign out of high school, returned to action on December 8 and played six games (2-4) during which he posted averages of 13.6 scores and 6.3 assists every time out before rejoining sick bay nine days later when he fractured a bone in his left knee in a win at Memphis.

Bryant is expected to be back in uniform in early February in what looks like a lost season for the moribund and injury-plagued Lakers, who are 10 games below .500 (16-26) with 40 remaining in the schedule.

Bryant’s $30 million-plus stipend appears to be exorbitant only because he has not played much this season through no fault of his. Then again, the mind-boggling payment is justifiable if past services rendered are taken into account.

According to the late Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss once said the five-time NBA championship veteran was probably worth $60 million a year because of the billions of dollars in revenues that he had helped bring in to the franchise.

A clause in Bryant’s current Lakers pact allowed Bryant to receive a balloon payment of $24,363, 044 on November 1 with the remaining $6.09 million to be paid out over the course of the season.

While there’s a cap to how much a player can receive in advance, Bryant is right at that 80 percent maximum allowed under the NBA’s old collective bargaining agreement.

That type of advanced payment was tweaked in the new labor contract signed by the NBA and its players union in 2011 although Bryant’s current three-year deal (a maximum-value contract extension he inked in April 2010 that took effect in 2011-12) was grandfathered in.

The current CBA allows provisions to pay a player as much as 25 percent up front.

Some players get paid every two weeks during the season, while others get paid twice a month year round. A select few, of course, receive lump-sum payments.

After heavy state, federal and Medicare taxes, Bryant actually took home only around $10.9 million of the $24 million-plus up-front compensation.

Bryant is the second player in NBA history to earn an annual salary of $30 million or more. His $30,453,805 stipend is the second largest ever, dwarfed only by Michael Jordan’s $33.1 paycheck from the NBA title-winning Chicago Bulls in 1997-98.

The year before in 1996-97, Jordan made history in earning $30.1 million with the Bulls in another championship finish.

Those two $30-million seasons were MJ’s only campaigns in which he was paid an NBA salary greater than $4 million. In contrast, Kobe made $9 million as a 21-year-old in his fourth NBA season.

The third highest-paid NBA player ever (behind Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal), with $279,738,062 in career salary so far, Kobe is not yet done playing.

Last November 25, he inked a two-year, $48.5-million contract extension (effective 2014-15) that will send him to seasons 19 and 20 with the Lakers for the longest single-team tenure in NBA history.

Under the NBA’s over-age 36 rule, a player is not allowed to sign a contract extension that is longer than two years.

Bryant, who broke into the NBA with the Lakers in 1996 (the No. 13 overall selection whose draft rights were acquired from the Charlotte Hornets – now the New Orleans Hornets – in exchange for the Lakers’ Serbian center Vlade Divac) straight out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania joined the NBA in 1996, took a salary cut in his latest contract extension.

He will be paid $23.5 million in 2014-15 and $25 million in 2015-16, allowing him to keep his status as the NBA’s highest-paid player in those seasons.

Bryant, whose work ethic is legendary, spent most of his childhood in Italy and France until age 14 while his father, former NBA journeyman Joe (Jellybean) Bryant, played pro ball overseas.
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