It was not your average Aussie Christmas Day.
On the face of it there was plenty of food, family, fun and festive cheer. That was all fairly normal.
Yet among the crowd of family and friends at the Wollongong home of Illawarra businessman Tory Lavalle was a young man who has become a household name around the world.
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That young man, LaMelo Ball, was picked at No.3 in the 2020 NBA Draft on Thursday by Michael Jordan's Charlotte Hornets.
The two men who instigated that Christmas Day last year were Lavalle and long-time Illawarra Hawks courtside announcer David McFarland.
The two would become firm friends of LaMelo Ball and his mentor and now manager, former NBA player Jermaine Jackson.
Jackson and Ball struck up a friendship with McFarland not long after their arrival in Australia in August last year.
In the lead-up to Christmas, McFarland rang Lavalle to ask whether he had a portable barbecue he could borrow for a Christmas Day barbecue with the visiting Americans at the beach. Instead Lavalle invited them all to join his own family Christmas get-together.
"Then I couldn't get rid of them for about the next six weeks," Lavalle laughed.
On Thursday, Lavalle and McFarland sat together half a world away watching their young mate fulfil his dream of being drafted into the NBA.
Minutes later they were on a Facetime call with the young superstar in the States as the basketball world was trying to contact him to pass on their congratulations.
"To speak to him on Facetime today ... wow, that just showed the connection we had, the respect we have for each other," Lavalle said.
Lavalle and McFarland watched nervously on the couch from Lavalle's Wollongong home and exploded with excitement and relief when Ball's name was read out at No.3 by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
"It was exciting ... I think we were more nervous than they were and they were living it," McFarland said.
"To see, after LaMelo being announced, the highlights of him in his Multi Civil and Rail (Tory's former company) Hawks' singlet was amazing. It was great for the Illawarra, great for the Hawks."
The friendship forged and experiences they all shared will live for a lifetime, Lavalle describing it as a "Christmas we won't forget".
"It's exciting to be a part of it," Lavalle said.
"To me LaMelo was a kid we invited into the family and he became part of our family.
"At no stage around us did he behave like a superstar.
"He was just one really good kid.
"He loved hanging around and the family atmosphere. We had a lot of barbecues.
"He just became one of the kids and he always had a smile on his face."
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They took a number of trips together to see the sights such as Symbio Wildlife Park and the Opera House.
They even banded together to attempt to take ownership of the Hawks' franchise, which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
However, Lavalle is quick to point out he is a strong supporter of the club's new ownership and their attempts to restore the name "Illawarra" to the club which was removed at the whim of the league.
McFarland said the LaMelo Ball he came to know and love was "just a really funny kid" who was an incredible "smack talker".
"I think I'm a good smack talker but he's about a thousand times better," McFarland laughed.
"And he always wants to win, no matter what he's playing ... table tennis, pool, swimming.
"We were doing some (injury) rehabing with him in the pool and he had to win at that.
"We'd go up and down the pool and he'd be jumping around like he'd just won a championship game."
During his time in Wollongong, where he lived just a three-point shot away from WIN Entertainment Centre, LaMelo remained intensely focused on his basketball development.
McFarland pointed out after one of his now famous triple-double games for the Hawks, LaMelo and his entourage rolled up for more shooting practice at the Snakepit at 3am the next morning.
If not at the Snakepit, playing PlayStation in his apartment or with the Lavalles or McFarlands, Ball and Jackson could often be found at the Coffee Club in Wollongong, Chicko's or Litani's.
They absolutely loved it here and [LaMelo] kept saying he wanted to buy a place and come here for holidays," Lavalle said.
"They couldn't speak more highly of it."
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