A few months after appearing in desperate trouble, the National Basketball League is undergoing a major makeover and Andrew Gaze detects a new feel-good vibe.
The eight-team competition was in dire straits when the Wollongong and Townsville teams went into voluntary administration back in March.
It needed a white knight, and successful businessman Larry Kestelman answered the call.
Already affiliated to Melbourne United, Kestelman brought passion, vision, money and a determination to rejuvenate the ailing NBL.
The Crocs and Hawks came out of administration and the return to the league of several quality Australian players including Chris Goulding, AJ Ogilvy and Julian Khazzouh plus Sydney’s re-signing of former NBA star Josh Childress added momentum.
“We’ve been started 60 days and we’ve set ourselves a target of trying to give a complete facelift of the game in 100 days, and we’re well and truly on the way with that,” NBL executive director Kestelman told AAP.
“Our goal is to make basketball the best entertainment in sport.
“People who already love basketball feel that way, but what we want to do is attract a whole new group of fans who will love basketball not just for the game, but for the entertainment value.
“It needs to be something teenagers find cool and sexy and want to be part of, and that’s not something I could say about the way the brand presented itself in the last 10 years.”
On Thursday the NBL announced it would schedule regular season matches five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday and avoid directly competing with the start of the AFL and NRL seasons.
There’s a long way to go.
Crucially, the competition still has to secure a television deal and also a naming rights sponsor for next season.
“I would have loved to have been doing this deal with them six months ago, the timing is very, very difficult, but we’re confident that we will achieve a deal of some sort,” Kestelman said.
“We’ve started a lot of conversations, but over the next 30 to 45 days it’s about locking in the sponsors and the corporate partners.”
Kestelman’s vision and early actions received a stamp of endorsement from arguably the greatest player in NBL history, Boomers legend Andrew Gaze.
“It was a tumultuous time at the end of last season, with a couple of teams going into administration, and that has really brought about some significant change,” Gaze told AAP.
“The most significant change is the different administration of the NBL, with Larry Kestelman buying a majority share and basically taking over the league.
“I think that’s an encouraging sign for a lot of the clubs because it’s a different formula.
“It was conceded by virtually everyone involved that more of the same was not going to get it done.
“There’s a vibe, there’s a feel-good time we’re going through, which is unusual when you consider at the end of the season there was talk of losing two teams and perhaps being a six-team competition.
“There was a lot of doom and gloom about, but I think with a change of governance and a new ownership model for the entire league, that generates a bit of excitement.
“This injection of money, with Larry taking the league in a new direction, setting up some new structures and new governance for the competition, I think it’s revitalised it and hopefully it can bring about better on and off court performances.”