Sydney Kings owner Paul Smith has revealed he recently offered to purchase the Illawarra Hawks, but was turned down by the NBL.
The admission comes as the Wollongong franchise battles its way through yet another case of ownership turmoil, with owner Simon Stratford standing down all staff on Monday.
After entertaining the sale of the franchise, it is understood Stratford is now prepared to hand the licence back to the NBL amid mounting financial pressure.
Smith has emerged as a larger-than-life basketball personality since taking full ownership of the Kings in 2019, the Warilla product turning the franchise into a powerhouse on and off the court.
Just last week the businessman bought the WNBL's Sydney Uni Flames, a purchase Smith said would not prevent him from making a bid for the Hawks if such a possibility eventuated.
"I have openly canvased the idea of becoming involved," Smith said.
"That might take the form of ownership, that might take the form of partial owner that would provide strategic structural and functional synergies.
"I can't speak for the NBL mindset, but I have been advised that's not necessarily in the interests of the NBL."
The Kings and Hawks may be fierce rivals on the court, but it's this rivalry that makes it so important to Smith that both clubs thrive.
It was Sydney's clash with Illawarra that set a new NBL record for largest attendance, 17,514 fans turning out last November to watch the teams do battle at Qudos Bank Arena.
With the league achieving significant growth in recent years, Smith said the NBL must continue to support the Hawks and ensure a professional basketball presence remains in the Illawarra for years to come.
"It's the No. 1 most important thing for the league right now, the existence of the Hawks franchise. It's one-ninth of the NBL, that's 11 per cent of the business. My view is we should be doing everything possible to ensuring their survival.
"If a franchise leaves town, it's very hard to come back. I would hate to see Wollongong lose a toehold in professional basketball. It has a negative impact on the sport, on the Kings, we need a strong local rival."
With the Hawks in a dire financial state and Stratford looking to offload the franchise, a number of potential buyers have emerged in recent months.
As reported by the Mercury, those include a consortium led by a prominent Wollongong businessman and an interstate party that has only emerged in recent days.
While Smith is still open to the idea of buying the club, he is confident that whoever eventually makes the purchase will provide the platform for the Hawks to grow.
"I hope there are a lot of buyers," Smith said. "There should be. It's a great franchise, it's got a long history, a lot of passion around it.
"Simon's done a great job with it, the best he can. The circumstances are such that he can't continue, but at the same time, a new owner can take it to the next level.
"It's like a relay race, you pass on the baton and give it to the next person. If it's time for Simon to pass on the baton, so be it. I hope someone gets it and runs really hard with it."
The Illawarra Mercury has sought comment from the NBL.
While you're with us the Illawarra Mercury is offering sport readers 20% off an annual digital subscription. Sign up to stay up to date with all the local sports you love for only $3.00 a week. Terms and conditions apply.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.