It's not the NBA Down Under games we've been waiting for, but it's a big step forward.
The NBL came forward with a cryptic message on social media yesterday, hinting that a major NBA-NBL announcement would be unveiled at 10:30am on Tuesday.
The Age's Roy Ward and The Daily Telegraph's Matt Logue broke the news ahead of schedule, at 6:00am. According to Ward and Logue, a trio of NBL teams are set to debut in October for exhibition games against several NBA teams, including Utah Jazz, whom Boomer swingman Joe Ingles recently re-signed with.
“This is massive for Australian basketball and an exciting opportunity for NBA and NBL players to compete together on the same floor," Ingles said. "As an Aussie who began my career in the NBL and now entering my fourth season with Utah, I am very proud of the growth of the game in my home country and can’t wait for the Jazz and Salt Lake City to play host to Sydney this fall.”
Melbourne United will be playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have Kiwi Steven Adams and recently-drafted ex-36er Terrance Ferguson on their roster, while the Sydney Kings will be playing the Jazz. The Brisbane Bullets will face off against the Phoenix Suns.
“This is a huge moment for Australian basketball," Larry Kestelman, NBL executive chairman and owner said.
"For the NBL to be able to play some of the biggest teams in the world shows how far our league has come. I want to thank the NBA for this exciting opportunity to showcase the NBL on the world stage. For our teams to be chosen to come and play in the NBA preseason is a great endorsement of the NBL and Australian basketball.
"We currently have a number of Australians playing in the NBA, strong national teams in the Boomers and Opals, record participation levels and a flourishing national competition. This opportunity will only build more excitement ahead of the NBL season starting on Oct. 5.”
Official NBL press conference
Why it makes sense
The NBL has been building a steadfast partnership with the NBA since Larry Kestelman's ascension to owner status. Landmark events have included the hosting of a Basketball Without Borders camp in Australia last year, and opening the NBA's Global Academy in the Australia Institute of Sports (AIS). Having NBL teams play in exhibition games in the NBA is a solid benchmark of where the NBL is in terms of quality, and will draw future prospects to the league, especially ones who are mulling over the possibility of using the NBL as an alternative to the one-and-done college route.
“This is another big leap forward for the NBL and Australian basketball," Sydney Kings head coach Andrew Gaze said. "As somebody who played in the NBA I know how much this opportunity means. The NBL has always been very attractive for NBA players and is a pathway to the NBA, as the recent drafting of Terrance Ferguson showed. We also had a number of NBL players played in the NBA Summer League this year.”
Kestelman had spoken about this in January.
“I won’t rest until we see the Sydney Kings playing the Warriors or the Chicago Bulls,” Kestelman had said. “It will happen, whether it’s on our soil or theirs, but it will definitely happen.
“As soon as they know what their pre-season looks like, we are certainly having a chat to them about some of our teams travelling over there to play as part of their pre-season.
“We are one of the few leagues in the world that can actually challenge their teams and put up a good fight. It’s either us or a few of the Euro League teams and that’s about it.
“There is no other competition in the world that would have the standard of play that would be any serious challenge to an NBA club.”
It also makes sense, from a logistical standpoint. Given this coming NBA season is going to be moved forward slightly, with the official opening starting in mid-October instead of late October, all teams will be coping with adjustments to their offseason schedule. Throwing an additional spanner into the works with long-haul trips to Australia and back, isn't the best idea right now. Having NBL teams fly in to play, works around their schedule instead.
There's also cost. The biggest barrier to the NBA having a game in Australia has always been the initial cost, and the potential return on investment (ROI). Flying the NBL teams to the States pushes back the cost discussion for another day, when the business case presents itself better, hopefully with commercial sponsors getting on board.
Scott Levy, current Managing Director for NBA Asia, had mentioned last year that there were no plans to bring an NBA game to Australia "right now". Having said that, all hope is not lost. Kestelman last mentioned to The Daily Telegraph in Feb 2017, that he was working to bring two NBA teams to Australia ahead of the 2019/20 NBL season.
Having NBA teams play in Australia hasn't happened yet, but we're definitely making steady progress towards that day.
When and how to watch
The Kings are reportedly set to play the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on 3 Oct, according to Logue.
UPDATE (via NBA official press release, dates adjusted to match Australian time):
The Sydney Kings will visit the Utah Jazz, featuring Australians Joe Ingles and Danté Exum, on Oct. 3 at Vivint Smart Home Arena, followed by Melbourne United meeting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 9 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Brisbane Bullets will visit the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Oct. 14.
According to Ward, the time an NBL team played against an NBA team was in 1995, when the Perth Wildcats took on the Houston Rockets at the McDonalds Championship tournament in London. The Wildcats lost that game 116-72 against a Rockets championship roster featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
This article will be updated with following the official NBL announcement later, on how the games would be televised, if at all.
Television broadcasting rights will be complex, given the rights for both leagues lie with different parties (NBA with ESPN, NBL with Foxtel). It's very likely that NBA League Pass will remain a viable option for these games, as do the NBL's own streaming product, NBL.TV.