Trio of NBL teams to square off with NBA rivals
THE NBL has taken a significant step forward.
The Sydney Kings, Melbourne United and the Brisbane Bullets will travel to the US in October to go up against NBA teams during the league's pre-season.
The first match-up will see the Kings face the Utah Jazz - a team that features Australians Joe Ingles and Dante Exum - and will tip off on October 3 (AEST). The game will take place at Salt Lake City's Vivint Smart Home Arena.
On October 9, Melbourne United will go up against Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, before the Brisbane Bullets and Phoenix Suns go at it, tipping off on October 14 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
"This is a huge moment for Australian basketball," NBL managing director Larry Kestelman said.
"For the NBL to be able to play some of the biggest teams in the world shows how far our league has come. I want to thank the NBA for this exciting opportunity to showcase the NBL on the world stage.
"For our teams to be chosen to come and play in the NBA pre-season is a great endorsement of the NBL and Australian basketball."
The NBL season tips off on October 5, meaning the Kings have an extremely quick turnaround before their season opener. The United and Bullets games will come in the midst of the NBL regular season.
The NBL and NBA officially announced these games at a press conference yesterday in Sydney.
"We are excited for the NBL to participate in the 2017 NBA pre-season," said Scott Levy, the NBA's Asia managing director.
"Australia has proven to be a basketball powerhouse with a growing number of its players making their mark in the NBA and on the global stage. Australia remains one of our largest international markets for merchandise sales and NBA league pass, and these games mark a milestone moment for our two leagues."
Creating a relationship with the NBA has long been a priority for Kestelman and NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger.
Both have made several trips to the US to meet with NBA executives, as well as to attend NBA Summer League action.
These pre-season games can be seen as the fruit of the hard work of both men, with the first match-up likely to be the headliner, considering the amount of Australians involved.
Ingles and Exum have been staples at the Jazz for the past three years - with the former recently re-signing with the team on a four-year, $52 million deal - while the Kings feature Boomers Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley, as well as the recent addition of one of the country's top junior stars, Isaac Humphries.
"This is massive for Australian basketball and an exciting opportunity for NBA and NBL players to compete together on the same floor," said Ingles, a former NBL Rookie of the Year.
"As an Aussie who began my career in the NBL and now entering my fourth season with Utah, I am very proud of the growth of the game in my home country and can't wait for the Jazz and Salt Lake City to play host to Sydney this fall."
The NBA regular season is set to tip off on October 18, with the schedule set to be released in the coming weeks.
The NBL's connection with the NBA has only grown of late, with former Bullets wing Torrey Craig recently signing a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets, while a plethora of NBL stars - led by the likes of Bryce Cotton, Mitch Creek and Nathan Sobey - played Summer League basketball in July.
There's also the case of Terrance Ferguson, who decided to forgo his college career to sign with the Adelaide 36ers and was selected by the Thunder with the 21st overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The Australian profile within the NBA is on the rise, and that's demonstrated by the record eight Australians set to suit up for teams during the upcoming season.