NBA No.1 draft prospect LaMelo Ball will lead a new ownership group in a stunning deal with the NBL.
The Mercury can confirm Ball and manager Jermaine Jackson are in advanced negotiations with the NBL and a Wollongong business partner to take over the ownership from Simon Stratford.
Stratford is yet to officially hand back the licence as he discusses terms with NBL boss Larry Kestelman, but he was at the Hawks' Snakepit headquarters at Beaton Park on Thursday morning to gather his belongings.
Ball had stated his interest in being involved with the Hawks before leaving, however, the Mercury has learned his team is poised to essentially take on oversight of the basketball operations and recruitment process, assuming the deal is finalised.
It is believed the contracts are already in the hands of solicitors as they discuss the final stages of the deal in coming days.
The new ownership means Ball would spend part of the Australian summer back in Wollongong during the NBA off-season as the Hawks try to rebuild, after finishing last this season.
There had been two other parties interested in taking over the licence, but the Ball deal is the NBL's preferred option, essentially freezing out rival bidders.
Ball was signed to the Hawks as part of the NBL's Next Stars program.
The point guard skipped the usual NBA pathway through college in the US and made a big impression in the NBL despite playing only 12 games before being ruled out with injury.
He averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game and boosted crowds at stadiums around the league but left in January after sustaining a foot injury.
While the future of the NBA competition, like all sporting leagues, is in turmoil by the COVID-19 outbreak, Ball's performances in Hawks colours confirmed his status as one of the future superstars in the US.
The Illawarra left a mark with Ball as well, as he pledged a month of his salary to support the bushfire recovery efforts on the South Coast.
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