The Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service will walk away from the Hawks as a key sponsor, over the 'disrespect' the NBL has shown by dumping the region's indigenous name.
Chief executive Kane Ellis told the Mercury on Thursday night removing the Illawarra name, regularly translated to 'pleasant place' in indigenous language, would undo the work done by the NBL club.
"We're out," Ellis said.
"It's disrespectful in a word, to the people of this region, that for 40-plus years that name has been in the NBL and now it's taken away.
"Illawarra is an Aboriginal word and while the meanings can vary, it is referred to as a pleasant place, and it's disrespectful to have it taken away, it's not always about business people.
"The Hawks, with coach Matt Flinn and (general manager) Mat Campbell, as well as the important work of (former player) Tyson Demos have led the way with the indigenous jersey and the indigenous round.
"It was something that wasn't initially promoted and supported by the NBL, the work was done by the Hawks, so it's really disappointing they're now walking away from the connection to the region."
The Hawks were the first team in the NBL to create an indigenous round against the Sydney Kings, before combining with the New Zealand Breakers to celebrate the Aboriginal and Maori cultures last season.
After a voluntary administration period, Illawarra businessman Tory Lavalle's bid with potential top NBA draft pick LaMelo Ball was cast aside in preference for ex-Sydney Kings owner Dorry Kordahi and former Philadelphia NBA general manager Bryan Colangelo.
Lavalle, the major sponsor through his company Multi Civil and Rail, has left the door open to continuing on next season, to be delayed until late in the year at the end of the COVID-19 crisis which shutdown sport globally. A series of crucial meetings loom next week to determine the future direction of the club, including the appointment of a new coach and the future of Flinn and Campbell's involvement with the club.
The NBL declared on Wednesday the removal of the name Illawarra from the Hawks brand would allow them to broaden the footprint across regional NSW.
Ellis said the indigenous programs would continue through Illawarra communities and schools regardless of the Hawks support.
But he demanded the NBL support the club officials who led the indigenous programs put in place, as well as the reinstatement of the Illawarra name.
"It's so disappointing, it's about honesty and trust," Ellis said.
Ellis accepted the decision to drop Illawarra from the club name had no racial overtone, but is adamant it's important the team's future remained in the region.
"I don't want people to think it has a racist overtone, we understand the team is part of the league," Ellis said.
"But you take away Melbourne from United, or Sydney from the Kings and what do they stand for?
"This is a foundation club that has survived, it has a proud history that we love and it has done amazing work for indigenous culture and kids who aspire to be like Tyson or Patty Mills.
"There's a bigger cultural partnership they have to recognise and respect and be part of the region's future."