Kobe Bryant's doctor also treated pope

Kobe Bryant's $3 million possible deal to play 10 games in Italy during the NBA lockout was aided by a former physician to Pope John Paul II who treated the Lakers star this summer with a pioneering blood treatment.

Bryant traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany, in June for treatment, as previously reported. ESPN The Magazine has learned that he was treated by Dr. Peter Wehling, an influential but little-known molecular orthopedist who insists he's having breakthrough success repairing aging joints by manipulating his patients' blood.

According to a source familiar with Bryant's treatment, his blood was treated to isolate growth factors that attack inflammation, and then cultured with chemicals to increase their potency before being injected into his arthritic right knee.

Wehling declined to confirm or deny that he treated Bryant. But in a rare interview about his work, he told ESPN The Magazine, "I am the only one to have found a way to cure arthritis."

Bryant blamed his ailing knee for causing his minutes and shooting percentage to decrease last season.

Although Wehling's procedure shares some similarity to traditional platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, the physician says he's achieved a nearly 90 percent success rate by genetically screening his patients to personalize their treatments. His website shows him with his arm around actor Nick Nolte.

Another source said Bryant was introduced to Wehling by Pistons guard Tracy McGrady. A spokesman for McGrady declined comment, other than to say the 33-year-old All-Star "has great respect for Dr. Wehling and had a wonderful experience there."

Bryant's agent did not respond to repeated inquiries.

Wehling recently opened an outpost in Los Angeles, where he says he deals with a very small and exclusive clientele. "We do it at the moment only on low profile and recommendation, and we do not advertise it," he told The Magazine.

Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.