SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's professional basketball league denied on Friday (April 3) that it had agreed to sell the Illawarra Hawks to teenager LaMelo Ball, who solidified his 2020 NBA Draft top pick contender status playing for the team last year.
The National Basketball League (NBL) issued the denial after Ball's manager told ESPN that the purchase of the Illawarra Hawks was "a done deal".
"We own the team," Jermaine Jackson told the US network.
Within hours, the NBL sought "to clarify the current situation" regarding the 18-year-old and the Hawks.
"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," it said in a statement.
The NBL said discussions were under way with current team owner Simon Stratford "on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome" for Illawarra and the league.
But is stressed that the NBL "has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date".
Ball went Down Under in August and the point guard averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and seven assists in 12 games with the Hawks before a foot injury ended his NBL season.
The 2019 NBL Rookie of the Year wanted to make Australia part of his long-term plans after enjoying his stay with the Wollongong, New South Wales-based team.
So when Stratford and his wife Wendy posted a message saying they needed more corporate and public support, Ball saw a perfect opportunity, Jackson told ESPN.
'He loves that community'
"Melo loves the Illawarra fans," Jackson, a former NBA and European player, said. "He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we're at home.
"When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, 'Let's own the team'."
Ball is working out with brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo in suburban Los Angeles ahead of the draft, whose exact date is uncertain in the wake of the NBA shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"He's 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... We're going to put the organisation on steroids, building it into a programme that guys want to play for."
Ball, who donated a month of his Hawks salary to victims of the Australian bush fires, also plans some visits to Australia when the NBA is not in season.
"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."
The Stratfords said in a team website posting that Ball "will always have a home here at the Hawks".