In an open letter following the recent Illawarra Hawks basketball season, owners Simon and Wendy Stratford stated that American rookie LaMelo Ball, expected to be a top NBA draft pick in June, will “always have a home here” with the Australian National Basketball League team.
In the same letter, the Stratfords acknowledged that “we are always looking for committed investors.”
Ball appears to have taken both statements to heart. The 18-year-old player and his manager, Jermaine Jackson, have purchased the Hawks, Jackson told ESPN on Thursday.
“We own the team” Jackson said. “It’s a done deal.”
But the NBL issued a statement Friday saying that’s not quite the case.
“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 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.”
Jackson did not reveal any financial details, and the team has not acknowledged a sale.
Ball, the youngest of the three Ball brothers from Chino Hills, signed with the Hawks last year as he prepared for his future in the NBA. A bruised foot limited him to 12 games, but Ball made quite an impression during his brief time with the team. He averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.7 steals and was named the NBL rookie of the year.
The Hawks also made quite an impression on Ball, according to Jackson.
“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.’”
Even though Ball is in Chino Hills preparing for the draft, Jackson said the two of them are committed to do whatever it takes to make the team a success. Jackson said that he’s talked to several former NBA general managers and “high-level coaches that won every championship you can imagine” who are interested in working with the organization.
"[Ball] is going to be locked into his NBA career, but we are going to hire the right people to oversee everything,” Jackson said. “He wants to create the best basketball program possible for that community there.”
He added: “When high school kids hear LaMelo owns the team, they will want to come. They’ll know they will be taken care of.”