NBL keen to follow up LaMelo interest in ownership
LaMelo Ball has emerged as an unlikely suitor of the Illawarra Hawks should current owner Simon Stratford sell the embattled franchise.
NBL owner Larry Kestelman confirmed Ball and his agent expressed a desire to own a slice of the Hawks during their time in Australia last season.
The gifted guard hasn't followed up his interest in Illawarra as he focuses on June's NBA draft, but Kestelman is interested in reopening talks should Stratford walk away.
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Ball's interest in the Hawks comes as the franchise was forced to stand down all staff and coaches due to the financial impact of the coronavirus.
This has placed a cloud over Stratford's future as Illawarra owner, with numerous parties expressing interest in the Wollongong based club.
Kestelman said the NBL would be prepared to take over the Hawks for the foreseeable future until a suitable owner was sourced.
Until then, the likes of Ball are possible contenders to own or part-own Illawarra.
"He (LaMelo) definitely expressed an interest with his manager," Kestelman said about Ball, who picked up the NBL Rookie of the Year despite leaving early following a foot injury after playing 12 games for the Hawks and averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game.
"The world is in a different place now (following the coronavirus), so I don't know if that is the case currently as I haven't spoken to them about it.
"But they have (previously) expressed an interest.
"If Simon (Stratford) was not successful and the club came back to us, we would run a process to try and find the right owner.
"We are happy to stand behind these clubs, but our intent is not to own these clubs long-term.
"At the moment Simon is still the owner of the club, so he deserves our respect and a lot of this rests on him.
"But if and when he sells the club, then we are happy to support it until we find the right owner."
Ball's interest in ownership follows a long list of former and current NBA players involved financially in the NBL, including Dante Exum, Andrew Bogut and Zach Randolph.
Kestelman also ruled out any current NBL owners taking over Illawarra.
Sydney Kings owner Paul Smith, who recently took on WNBL franchise the Sydney Flames, previously refused to rule out ownership of the Hawks.
In an interview prior to the 2019-2020 NBL season, he was asked why he doesn't own Illawarra as a proud south coast boy, to which he replied: "Well, firstly, it's an easy answer in the sense that no one asked me."
However, Kestelman said the league's preference was to look externally for Illawarra's next owners should Stratford depart.
"We would want to explore independent ownership first," he said.
"I don't think it is a plus for the league to have multiple owners in such close proximity.
"I would never say never, but we need to access every circumstance."
Kestelman declared the NBL won't let Illawarra fold, regardless of their financial struggles.
Instead he has urged the Hawks to continue to expand their brand into Canberra and other parts of NSW.
"I have been a strong advocate that the Hawks need to become a club for all of regional NSW and the ACT," he said.
"I think they need to continue playing a big part of their games in Wollongong.
"That is where their history lies as their primary home, but I think they should spread their wings much further.
"They really need to do a better job at being for all of that area.
"I think it is a team that can play a number of games in Canberra, in a community that would love to see more games.
"I think we need to come up with a formula to see how that works to make the club sustainable.
"I said that three years ago, and I say that today."
Originally published as NBL keen to follow up LaMelo interest in ownership