The manager for potential No. 1 NBA draft pick LaMelo Ball told ESPN that they have purchased his Australian NBL team, although in a statement later, the Illawarra Hawks said no sale has been completed.
“We own the team,” Jermaine Jackson told ESPN. “It’s a done deal.”
No financial details were revealed.
On Friday, the Australian NBL said it was working with Simon Stratford, the current license holder of the team, on “a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.”
The league, which confirmed discussions about Ball’s interest in Illawara, also said it has “final approval of any transfer of license” and that no application for the transfer had been made.
Ball arrived in Australia in August as part of the league’s Next Stars program and established himself as a strong candidate to be the top pick in the draft. The 6-foot-7 point guard averaged 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 12 games with the Hawks, posting back-to-back triple-doubles before a foot injury ended his season.
He is automatically eligible for the 2020 draft, per NBA rules, and is the No. 2-ranked draft prospect by ESPN.
Ball enjoyed his time in Australia so much that he decided to make the country a part of his long-term future, especially when financial issues threatened the team.
“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.”
Jackson, who spent five seasons in the NBA along with stops in Italy, Spain, Greece and elsewhere, said he expects there to be significant interest from the next generation of American stars in following in Ball’s footsteps.
“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.”
Ball, who is in Chino Hills, California, preparing for the draft with his brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo, hopes to use the purchase as an avenue to connect with his many young fans who supported him in his time in Australia and to give back to the basketball community, Jackson said. Ball previously donated a month of his NBL salary to the victims of the Australian bushfire.
“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.”