Eighteen-year-old basketball star LaMelo Ball has come to the rescue of the Illawara Hawks by buying the NBL franchise with his business manager Jermaine Jackson.
“We own the team,” Jackson told ESPN.
“It’s a done deal.”
Point guard Ball moved to Australia in August as part of the NBL’s Next Stars initiative.
Jackson’s comments followed an open letter from club owners Simon and Wendy Stratford earlier in the week, calling for interested and committed investors.
Ball, who is expected to be one of the top picks at the NBA draft when it is held, answered that call.
“Melo loves the Illawarra fans. He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home,” Jackson told ESPN.
“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 did not reveal any financial details but said Ball had grand plans for the NBL’s only remaining foundation club, visiting Australia in the NBA off-season to run clinics and “connect with the youth”.
“When high school kids hear LaMelo owns the team, they will want to come,“ Jackson told ESPN.
“They’ll know they will be taken care of. We’re going to put the organisation 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.”
But the NBL aren’t handing over the keys yet, a statement on Friday morning declaring the Stratfords still hold the license and that there had been no application lodged by Ball.
“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,” the statement read.
“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 had been on stand-by to take over the licence of the franchise following the reported collapse of the club, with NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger saying on Tuesday they were committed to the Hawks remaining in the competition.
Ball suffered a bruised foot and was limited to just 12 games with the Hawks where he averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
Despite his curtailed stint Ball was named NBL rookie of the year.
The teenager also made headlines in January when he donated a month of his NBL salary to the victims of Australia’s bushfire crisis.
He is the brother of Lonzo and LiAngelo Ball and is currently in training for the draft in California.