Rising professional basketball star LaMelo Ball is poised to purchase the Illawarra Hawks, of Oceania’s National Basketball League, along with his manager Jermaine Jackson.
Ball, a prospective top-10 pick in the 2020 National Basketball Association Draft, played 12 games for Illawarra last season as part of the NBL’s Next Stars program before injury cut his campaign short. Terms were not disclosed.
Despite the impact of Ball’s arrival, Illawarra suffered financial struggles, which were exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with staff and coaches furloughed. The NBL itself was prepared to take the team over while an owner was found, before Ball and Jackson stepped in.
“We own the team. It’s a done deal,” Jackson told ESPN. “Melo loves the Illawarra fans. He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home. When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, ‘Let’s own the team.’
“He is going to be locked into his NBA career, but we are going to hire the right people to oversee everything. He wants to create the best basketball program possible for that community there,” Jackson said.
The Hawks and the league, however, said later that a deal has not yet been completed.
After almost folding in 2015, the NBL enjoyed unprecedented growth last year following the arrival of NBA Draft Lottery prospects Ball and RJ Hampton.
In November, the 18-year-old Ball helped set a new NBL attendance record when Illawarra drew a crowd of 17,514 for a game against local rivals Sydney Kings at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. It broke a mark that had stood since 1999.
Ball and Hampton also helped set multiple broadcast records for the NBL. Following the duo’s arrival, the NBL secured broadcast deals with Facebook Watch in the United States and globally on Twitch, giving the league a far bigger platform internationally.
Ball’s debut for Illawarra in October was the most-watched game in NBL history, with more than one million people watching the live stream on Facebook. That record was quickly broken when Ball and Hampton squared off later that month, attracting 1.9 million views on Facebook.