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Jump shot: A taxonomy of the NBL’s 133% YOY rise

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With its recent grand final series shattering viewership records, the NBL’s booming success is continuing to generate buzz both nationally and across the globe. 

As the final buzzer sounded on the Sydney Kings 97- 88 Game 3 win over the Tasmanian JackJumpers, there was a lot to process. 

The moment was 17 years in the making for the NBL’s current champions, with 16,149 spectators there to see Sydney’s sweeping win. The moment was also marked with the milestone of the biggest NBL Finals crowd in history. It was also the league’s largest attendance for any game since 2019, when budding superstar LaMelo Ball and the Illawarra Hawks matched up against the Kings and pulled in 17,514. 

But it wasn’t just spectators that saw the Kings reign supreme. The NBL recently announced a notable jump in the average TV viewership on ESPN. The 2022 Grand Final series saw a 133 percent rise from last year’s series between Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats. 

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It is a far cry from the haze of the pandemic and its impacts. But further beyond that, too, the league’s had to ride out of a few bumps, following the initial boom seen during the 80s and 90s. A rebuild can be pinpointed to shortly after the takeover of ownership by Larry Kestelman in 2015, helping elevate the NBL to its now highest high. 

A league once showing signs of deterioration is now being put on the world stage with prominent names in basketball, including Orlando Magic’s RJ Hampton, who emphasised it was “no joke” in aiding his preparations for a career in the NBA. 

The NBL has seen a lineup of big name international talent over time, who either leveraged their stint in Australia for a shot at the NBA, like what Ball and Hampton did, or aim to develop themselves further for another shot in the American league. The names include Bryce Cotton, Jarell Martin, Zhou Qi, Josh Magette and Didi Louzada. 

There’s no denying a contributing factor to the league’s explosion in popularity is the Next Stars program, which capitalised on the NBA’s draft qualifications that prevented players from being picked up right after finishing high school. 

This ultimately led to athletes either choosing between the somewhat controversial but common NCAA college process or taking their talents across international waters. The initiative’s introduction has helped the league become a destination for a direct development pathway, and has also helped to put the NBL on the map to professional basketball scouts. 

It’s proving to be a prosperous initiative for the league with Ball, Hampton and Josh Giddey, who all were top draft picks following their tenure as Next Stars. More recently there’s the likes of Ousmane Dieng (Breakers) and Hugo Besson (Breakers), who have been in the conversation as potential top draft picks themselves in next month’s NBA Draft. 

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Similarly, the rapid growth seen by the league in recent years has helped to establish itself as a genuine coaching pathway, attracting the attention of profiles with NBA experience searching for head coaching roles. The Kings’ championship-winning coach Chase Buford follows an array of international names in basketball who have successfully developed their craft down under. 

Unsurprisingly, several of those in head coach positions across the NBL have applauded what the league has achieved so far. 

The Wildcat’s current coach Scott Morrison, who came to the league after spending time with the Boston Celtics as an assistant, listed the NBL as a “top-five league” worldwide in an interview with the SaltWire Network back in 2021. 

Meanwhile, Houston Rockets lead assistant coach Will Weaver, formerly at the Sydney Kings, labeled that what the NBL is doing as ‘undeniably positive’. 

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The NBL has also unlocked the potential for ownership interests, which was something also highlighted by Weaver when he previously chatted to the media about its booming success.

Kevin Martin, Andrew Bogut, Dante Exum and Shawn Marion have ties to the Bullets, Kings, Phoenix and Breakers respectively. LaMelo Ball and the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant were in discussions for ownership opportunities, but ultimately nothing more came out of discussions. The Illawarra Hawks chose another buyer over Ball, whilst Durant knocked back buying the Bullets at the last moment. 

The future looks bright for the NBL as it reaches new heights and breaks records. Securing Ball and Hampton might have helped build even stronger foundations in recent years. Don’t discount former Adelaide 36er Josh Giddey’s impact too, given how quickly he captured attention for Oklahoma City in the NBA as a rookie.

If other prominent national and international names in the sport continue to get on board, like Andrew Bogut and most recently Matthew Dellavedova, then the NBL will continue to go to even further heights than ever imagined. 

Its success on shore is ensuring its international legitimacy.

Ashleigh Matosevic
Ashleigh Matosevic
Ashleigh is a born and bred Melbournian who has covered a number of sports since graduating with a sports journalism degree. She has a passion for Aussie rules and basketball, as well as sharing the stories about the sportspeople who captivate us. Her experience includes writing for The Inner Sanctum and Draft Central.

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