Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he hopes the NBA resumes playing games in May, saying that the league’s restart can help bring people together amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview published Tuesday by Dallas television station WFAA, Cuban cited “people I’ve talked to at the CDC and other places” for his admittedly optimistic projection.
“No one has perfect information right now, so all decisions are tough, but if I had to guess based off the people I’ve talked to at the CDC and other places, I would say that the over-under [for a restart] would be June 1, and I’m taking the under,” Cuban told WFAA.
“Hopefully by the middle of May we’re starting to get back to normal and the NBA is playing games, maybe not with fans [in attendance], but we’re playing games.”
Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this month that the NBA was bracing for the possibility of a return in mid-to-late June as a best-case scenario, but Cuban hopes the games resume sooner.
“Sports plays such an important role,” Cuban said. “People want something to root for, people want something to rally around. People want something to be excited about, and if the Mavs and the NBA in general can get out there and start playing games in May so that they’re on TV, sports is what we need right now.”
The NBA suspended the season indefinitely on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. At least 14 members of NBA organizations had tested positive for the virus as of Monday.
The NBA has not formally announced a projected date for return, but Cuban said he expects the league to “lead the way out of this.”
“I’m proud of the NBA and the way we’ve reacted,” he said. “We’ve led the way and hopefully will lead the way out of this. … I think we’re coming together as a community, particularly in north Texas. But I think we need [sports], and I think the NBA is ready to play that role.”
Australian NBL says sale of team to LaMelo Ball, manager not complete
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.”
Lakers’ Frank Vogel says no one on coaching staff tested for coronavirus
Although the Los Angeles Lakers revealed this week that all of their players, including the two who previously tested positive for COVID-19, were symptom free following a two-week self-isolating period, head coach Frank Vogel admitted he has no way to be sure whether he or any of his coaching staff ever had the coronavirus as well.
“To my knowledge, the rest of the staff was not tested,” Vogel said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “The only people that were tested upon the news of the Brooklyn Nets’ positive test results were our players. That was from hair following the lead of our team doctor and the local health officials.”
Four Brooklyn Nets players, including Kevin Durant, tested positive for the virus, prompting the Lakers to quickly arrange for their players to receive testing. L.A.’s last game before the NBA’s hiatus was against Brooklyn at Staples Center on March 10.
Vogel, who is spending the layoff at home with his wife and two daughters, said he has been asked by loved ones about seeking out a test for himself, considering the close proximity a coach finds himself in with his players in huddles and the locker room, but he said he chose to follow the instructions he was given.
“It’s just, we were not told to be tested,” Vogel said. “And obviously everybody recognized the shortage of tests and we were only going to do what the local health department told us to do. So, we weren’t asked to be tested at that point.
“I reassured my family that I was in good health and obviously, while I had been around those guys, there had been some social distancing guidelines in place, so I felt fine and I also felt confident that a test wasn’t needed for me personally. But I think everybody is in a case-by-case basis with that.”
Beyond opting not to find a test for himself, Vogel told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that he isn’t even trying to find out who on his team tested positive.
“I don’t even know who are they,” he told MacMullan, “and I’m totally fine with that.”
Vogel is also taking the approach of controlling what he can off the court. He wakes up every morning to work out with his wife; he checks in on his daughters’ school work and respective lacrosse and soccer drills; the family whipped up homemade pizza and binge watched “Stranger Things” and “All American” on Netflix and took in movies such as “Just Mercy” and “Good Will Hunting.”
“Just trying time have as much fun as we can and enjoy the silver lining in this, which is the family time,” Vogel said.
Still, for the coach who saw his first season with the Lakers abruptly come to a halt after guiding them to the No. 1 record in the Western Conference at 49-14, the idea of losing the rest of the season because of a global pandemic is jarring.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “That certainly is a possibility and it would be a huge disappointment if we aren’t able to play. However, we get it, and this is bigger than basketball. And us getting back on the court is not the most important thing for the world right now.
“Hopefully we have that chance, and if we’re not able to, it would be a big disappointment, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
In the meantime, he says he is treating this time period like the offseason, knowing that if the league is able to resume the 2019-20 season at some point, his team will need energy to regenerate the success it had prior to the suspension.
“We’re going to have to recreate it,” Vogel said. “And I think it’s going to be difficult to just say, ‘Hey, maintain, maintain, maintain (during the break) and we just got to pick up right where we left off.’ We have to re-establish our chemistry, re-establish our work ethic, re-establish our conditioning and rhythm and timing.
“But every team in the league is going to have to do that.”
Australia’s NBL might be the gateway to NBA ownership
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 26, 2019. On April 2, NBA prospect LaMelo Ball and his manager purchased the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian NBL.
IN SEPTEMBER, THE team owners of the National Basketball League gathered on a three-story, 37-meter yacht named “Vegas” for their annual excursion off the coast of Australia. Vegas belongs to Larry Kestelman, the Melbourne entrepreneur widely regarded as the individual most responsible for resuscitating professional basketball in Australia and New Zealand.
Three years after purchasing the Melbourne Tigers in 2012, Kestelman bought a majority stake in the NBL and began pouring tens of millions of dollars into rebuilding a league that had fallen into disrepair. He is the NBL’s uber-authority, which means that when a team owner wants to air a grievance, it gets fired in his direction.
As the owners downed their pre-dinner drinks while gliding atop the turquoise waters between Hamilton Island and Queensland, the conversation grew more spirited.
One owner wanted to know when the NBL would start seeing more substantial broadcast revenue. Another pushed back on Kestelman’s insistence that the teams were in a phase where financial investment was vital.
A couple of drinks in, Kestelman had heard enough. A virile, imposing man of 53 with a shaved head, Kestelman put the attendees on notice:
“If you’re selling, I’m buying,” Kestelman told them.
Kestelman challenged any owner on the yacht who had buyer’s remorse or an irreconcilable issue with his vision: I’ll cash you out. And when the team appreciates, I’ll gladly profit.
No one took Kestelman’s offer that day — it was largely rhetorical anyway. Instead, this new wave of owners made deep investments in infrastructure and marketing, steadily building the NBL’s global audience. They’re attracting some of the best basketball prospects in the world onto their courts, while also enticing NBA stars past and present to buy in.
In past years, retired NBA players who generated wealth might have joined an ownership bid for a domestic franchise. These days, that money doesn’t go as far.
“You have to be a billionaire to own an NBA team,” said Kevin Martin, who retired in 2016 after playing 12 seasons and earning $83 million in salary with five NBA teams. “And none of us are billionaires.”
THE NBL IS enjoying a moment.
The league set an average attendance record last season of 6,348 and is up another 9% this season. Franchises that couldn’t find buyers less than a decade ago now trade at a valuation of $9 million. More Aussies than ever play NCAA basketball, with many returning to compete in their home league.
“It’s a must-see league with talent that isn’t going away,” said Tony Ronzone, a veteran international scout now with the Dallas Mavericks.
Fans all over the world have been watching LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton from afar as they ready themselves in the NBL for the 2020 NBA draft. Both top prospects are part of the NBL’s Next Stars initiative to lure elite North American high school players away from a year in the NCAA in favor of a season in Oceania as first-year pros.
When Ball and Hampton faced off in late October, nearly 2 million viewers across the globe watched on Facebook. Last month, more than 17,500 fans packed Qudos Bank Arena to watch Ball’s Illawarra Hawks play the Sydney Kings. But it isn’t just Next Stars who are committing to the NBL.
In the past year, Martin has purchased the majority of the Brisbane Bullets with former NBA exec and agent Jason Levien. Retired players Zach Randolph, Al Harrington and Josh Childress, as well as current Cleveland Cavaliers guard and Melbourne native Dante Exum, joined an investment group led by entrepreneur Romie Chaudhari to head up the expansion SE Melbourne Phoenix. Early in 2018, former Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion joined a group led by Matt Walsh — who played briefly for the Miami Heat — to acquire the New Zealand Breakers. In Sydney, longtime Golden State Warriors veteran Andrew Bogut now starts at center for the Kings, and he will have an option to vest in the franchise upon his retirement.
Prior to Martin coming into Brisbane, Kevin Durant flirted with purchasing the team. He and his manager, Rich Kleiman, were in lengthy discussions to buy the Bullets.
Ultimately, Durant decided geographical distance would prevent him from being any more than an absentee owner in a league that wanted him to be very visible. The NBL privately acknowledges that it could have made the negotiations a bit easier for Durant, who, sources say, hasn’t ruled out giving the NBL another look in the future.
VIRTUALLY EVERYONE WHO has an ownership stake in the NBL cites the product’s NBA feel as one of its positive attributes. At a recent showdown between the Kings and Melbourne United in Sydney that drew 9,512 in attendance, the texture and mood of the venue was very NBA — from the corporate hospitality to game operations (right down to the kiss cam).
For former players who are looking for a sweet spot that connects their entrepreneurial ambitions with their area of expertise, the NBL offers the ultimate perks: affordability and opportunity.
“The next 10 to 15 years, there are going to be a lot of players who retire with 50 to 100 million dollars,” Walsh said. “You’re not getting [an NBA] team for less than $1.5 billion. But being an assistant coach or scout for an NBA team, living that grind lifestyle, doesn’t appeal to them.”
During the past three decades, the average NBA player salary has multiplied more than seven times. Marion racked up salary earnings of $134 million over his 16-year career. Ten years ago, less than $100 million in cash might buy an individual controlling interest in an NBA franchise. Today, if a retired player of Marion’s wealth wants in on a deal, he is likely to be one of more than a dozen minority owners with a nominal percentage of the team — a glorified season-ticket holder with virtually no say in the operation.
Martin and Levien bought controlling stake of the Bullets based on a valuation of $9 million to $10 million, a boon for a league that could barely give away a franchise seven years ago. Martin plans to spend a full month in Australia in early 2020, and he anticipates spending a third of his time in Brisbane each year, immersing himself in his education of the Australian market.
“It was a whirlwind, but it felt right,” Martin said. “I saw the way they ran the league — the production quality, paying players on time, and the fan base is into it. The players, coaches, facilities, trainers, marketing — it really felt like a small-scale NBA.”
The autonomy of being an owner-operator was a key part of the sales pitch for Martin. This is a feature that Martin, Marion and Kestelman emphasize: The NBL is a nice starter home for any NBA player.
The Bullets will hire an executive to head up the organization’s business operations, but Martin expects to lead the front office and oversee decision-making on the basketball side. He said he is singularly focused on his new NBL venture and eager to absorb the economics of a professional sports team. He can imagine a future as a CEO of an NBA team once he has the requisite knowledge of the business.
“I look at it as a matchbox car,” Kestelman said. “You want to play with a big car, first you play with the little car. It’s not dissimilar. We’re nothing like an NBA club by resources, but in some ways that’s good because you get to actually get your hands dirty and get involved with everything that needs to be done around a club.”
The NBL would happily welcome more Kevin Martins.
The league has watched franchise valuations grow from below $1 million to $5 million, and Kestelman believes an NBL franchise will never again trade for less than $10 million. His preferred ownership model: a partnership between sophisticated businesspeople who are equally passionate about the business of team ownership and willing to spend, and former NBA players who have a sincere interest in serving as active owners and proselytizers for the NBL.
In the case of Martin, the NBL got both.
“Australia is a gem,” he said. “And the NBL is intriguing for someone in their mid-30s to own and run a team in professional sports.”
ZACH RANDOLPH HADN’T been on a professional basketball court since he was waived by the Mavericks in February. But there he was, soaking wet in street clothes, on the floor at Melbourne Arena an hour after watching his new holding — the Phoenix — get nipped by a point by Melbourne United.
Randolph wasn’t playing, but he was shagging balls for Phoenix guard Ben Madgen.
“Extra work! Extra work!” Randolph yelled at Madgen as he fed him passes and dissected the game he just witnessed as a spectator.
“I saw him out there working and getting shots up, it brought me back,” Randolph said. “But it got hot, and I’m chasing down rebounds in street clothes. I sweat easily, so the next thing you know, I take off my hoodie and my T-shirt.”
As the layers peeled off the two-time NBA All-Star, Madgen tried to put a 1 for 10 night behind him. He moved through his shooting routine, with Randolph playing the role of cameo assistant coach.
“He was gassing me up a little bit,” Madgen said. “After 20 minutes, I’m thinking, ‘Zach Randolph is rebounding for me.’ It was surreal. There aren’t many franchises where an owner will get on the court and rebound for a player.”
Randolph owns a small percentage of the Phoenix, and like the other NBA players who have bought into the NBL, he has entered into a mutually beneficial arrangement by investing with a friend in a franchise. The players buy proximity to the nerve center of a professional sports team, and the franchise gets an association with a brand-name NBA player.
“It gives you confidence that you are on the right track and that there are others who share your vision who have done it before,” said Craig Hutchison, chairman of Melbourne United.
Marion flew down in October for the start of the NBL season to watch the Breakers’ first three games. Like Randolph, he made the rounds at the arenas, to the delight of Australia’s rabid basketball fans, and did a slew of media hits on behalf of the Breakers and the NBL.
“There was a coolness aspect of having ‘The Matrix’ as part of our ownership group,” Walsh said. “You can always find someone to write a check [to join an ownership group], but how many are walking around with NBA championship rings?”
Since retiring from the NBA in 2015 — four years after winning a title with Dallas — Marion had been itching to move into an ownership role in pro sports. He considered joining a group to bid on an MLB team, and another for an MLS franchise, but both deals fell through.
Basketball is still Marion’s true love, the sport he intuitively knows and the one in which he can imagine playing the most central role post-retirement. When the chance to join Walsh presented itself, Marion jumped.
“I didn’t know anything about the NBL,” Marion said. “But it was a winning situation. Now that I’ve been, I would say that the way we have it set up over there, it’s the closest thing to NBA ball. That’s the thing I was in awe of.”
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