Former Next Star and looming NBA lottery draft pick, LaMelo Ball, has become part of the new ownership group for the NBL's Illawarra Hawks. The acquisition was done together with his manager, Jermaine Jackson, who confirmed with ESPN's Jonathon Givony, that the sale has been completed.
"We own the team. It's a done deal."
Update: Except, it's not. According to the NBL, who released an official statement on Friday morning, confirming that the transaction has not been completed.
The NBL would like to clarify the current situation regarding LaMelo Ball and the Illawarra Hawks.
The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season.
At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.
The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.
Update: The league released a statement on Friday evening, and announced that decision will lie with the NBL for the next ownership group.
The NBL has taken back the licence for the Illawarra Hawks after the club was placed into voluntary administration.
Hungry Jack’s NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman said: “We thank Simon and Wendy Stratford for everything they have done during their time at the club to advance the interests of the Hawks and the Illawarra region and we wish them all the very best during these unprecedented and challenging times.
“We will spend the coming weeks establishing a plan and a process to find the next owners of the club. Illawarra is one of the NBL’s foundation clubs and we are committed to ensuring its long term viability and success in the League.
“We are in discussions with the Australian Basketball Players’ Association and will address the issue of any outstanding player entitlements from the 2019-20 season, and make sure the club is in a strong position and ready to participate in the 2020/21 Hungry Jack's NBL season.”
The Hawks were recently revealed to have been seeking new ownership, and Ball, who spent the last season with the team as a Next Star, committed to the franchise in his way. On Thursday, the Illawarra Mercury had broke news on Ball leading the new ownership group, and revealed on Friday evening that Tory Lavalle was leading the push for Ball's Hawks ownership.
"Melo loves the Illawarra fans," Jackson told ESPN. "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."
With a new ownership structure, new management and a renewed focus on recruiting US-based high school talent, the league will be looking at a very different brand in the 2020/21 season, one that could prove more competitive than how the last season.
"When high school kids hear LaMelo owns the team, they will want to come," Jackson said. "They'll know they will be taken care of. We're going to put the organization on steroids, building it into a program that guys want to play for. I'm in touch with several former NBA GMs that want to go there to help out and high-level coaches that won every championship you can imagine."
According to Jackson, Ball aspires to use the team to grow the basketball community in Australia.
"When Melo wants to do stuff in the summertime, we'll be there," Jackson said. "We'll take a tour with his family all over Australia, doing basketball camps and connecting with the youth. He wants to inspire the next generation.
"That's how he was raised by his family. People have a perception of his father, but he has a heart of gold and it trickles down to his kids. His father didn't take him on a traditional route. He started his own sneaker company, Big Baller Brand. We've always talked about ownership. Melo wants kids to think big, especially in times like this."