Wollongong basketball fans rejoiced when Gujarat chairman Arun Jagatramka uttered the words that confirmed his long-term commitment to the club.
The day was July 27, 2011 and the Indian mining magnate was at the Northbeach Novotel, proudly explaining to a packed room the unique terms of his new naming rights sponsorship of the Hawks.
‘‘The Wollongong Hawks will continue to be part of the NBL for the next 100 years,’’ Jagatramka confidently declared. Audacious as it sounded, no-one had any reason to doubt the man.
After all, it was Jagatramka who literally saved the Hawks from extinction when he provided the club with a million-dollar bank guarantee two years earlier.
Without the last-minute guarantee, Wollongong would not be in the NBL today.
When Gujurat NRE then backed up the guarantee by taking over as the Hawks’ naming rights sponsor, everything appeared perfect for the club.
Some of Jagatramka’s other remarks on that July day were unforgettable.
‘‘I hope our further commitment as naming rights sponsor from this season will ensure the Hawks’ future for decades to come,’’ he said.
‘‘We are committed to the ongoing support of the Hawks and to the Illawarra region."
As it stands today, that celebrated 100-year promise is destined to fall well short.
Gujarat NRE is facing financial turmoil and hasn’t paid workers at its two Illawarra mines for four weeks.
The company is negotiating with Jindal Steel and Power for a potential takeover and it remains to be seen if the prospective new owners will continue sponsoring the Hawks beyond the 2013-14 season.
But Hawks fans shouldn’t panic.
While the club would’ve been in dire straits if Gujurat NRE’s problems had surfaced 12 months ago, the NBL’s recent demerger with Basketball Australia means teams are no longer required to provide a million-dollar bank guarantee.
And while that still leaves the naming rights sponsorship to resolve if the existing deal with Gujurat NRE ends after this season, the NBL will give the Hawks plenty of time to find a new major partner.
It is understood that Hawks management is already forming a contingency plan to shore up their future.
Another obvious talking point for the Hawks and their followers has been player payments.
The general view is that if Gujurat NRE can’t pay its miners, maybe it can’t meet its sponsorship obligations to the Hawks.
Assurances have been given that won’t be the case.
A Gujurat NRE spokesman was confident the company – takeover or not – will honour its sponsorship commitments to the Hawks at least until the end of the season.
The club also has money coming in from minor corporate partners.
Last week Hawks general manager Stuart Wilkinson released a statement outlining the club’s position in relation to Gujurat NRE’s financial issues.
Yesterday he said that position had not changed.
‘‘The Hawks understand the cash flow challenges Gujarat NRE are currently experiencing,’’ he said.
‘‘It is our hope, as a local business, they are able to successfully trade through this time, allowing them to continue to support our community and economy.
‘‘We are currently focused on the season ahead, servicing all our partners and members who make the Hawks possible.’’
It’s not all smooth sailing ahead for the Illawarra Hawks but the club has found ways to survive for almost 35 years.