Aussie Hoops Final Highlights NBA Money, Post COVID Rebound

Andrew Bogut fights the urge to influence basketball-related decisions. After all, that’s not his job.

The former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, now a minority owner of the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League in Australia and New Zealand, avoids meddling with Kings head coach Chase Buford’s strategy. After all, that strategy has the defending NBL champions back in the finals this weekend against the New Zealand Breakers.

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Bogut, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, offers advice periodically, yet only at Buford’s request, and regularly spends more time in the shadows—focusing on operating expenses rather than play execution.

“It’s strange because you don’t really have control over what’s going on on the court,” Bogut said in an interview. “As an owner, you’re not as in tune into the locker room, like who’s struggling or banged up … The nerves are much higher as an owner sitting courtside, since you’re not in control of the outcome.”

Bogut’s transition to ownership was spurred by a unique option in his contract when he played for the Kings during the 2019-20 season, which called for him to acquire 10% of the club once he retired. The former NBL most valuable player is one of roughly a dozen former and current NBA players with stakes in the growing league, which provides more feasible ownership opportunities than the NBA.

It also allows an investor to receive more hands-on experience as a minority owner, in contrast to being a powerless limited partner in the NBA. NBL team stakeholders include current and former NBA players Kris Middleton, John Wall, Josh Childress, Al Harrington and Kevin Martin, as well as former NFL standout Vernon Davis and tennis star Nick Kyrgios.

The list also includes four-time NBA All-Star Shawn Marion. He’s cheering on his team from afar as one of the minority owners of the Breakers. While the Kings are in their third finals in four years, looking to win a second consecutive title, the Breakers are making their first appearance since winning it in 2015.

“For us to do certain things right and be able to experience this run, especially in front of the fans, it speaks volumes,” Marion said in a video interview. “You got to give it up to [Breakers] coach Mody Maor in his first year coaching the team. Mody has the mojo … It’s awesome.”

The Breakers have had quite the journey to the finals, after being displaced from their home market of New Zealand for nearly two full seasons and forced relocate to Australia because of strict COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. This year’s postseason run coupled with pent-up demand and lifted restrictions helped the Breakers record their first sell-out in more than 10 years at their 12,000-seat arena in Auckland.

“This season has been really rewarding,” said majority owner and CEO Matt Walsh. “I said it all along: When we were going through the hard times over the last couple years, I felt like that stuff was going to make us stronger. … For the people who have been with us the last few years through those hard times, I’m especially happy for them.”

The return to the top of the league’s hierarchy will be beneficial for the Breakers, whose ownership group also includes sports investors Sam Porter, Al Tylis and two-time NBA All-Star Victor Oladipo.

Regardless of whether or not they win the title, the Breakers’ resurgence is slated to boost the value of its commercial partnerships and bolster season ticket renewals next season, when they’ll play a couple of preseason games against NBA teams.

The appearance also bodes well for recruiting. The Breakers have been one of the most successful NBL squads in attracting international talent and fostering future NBA players, like Detroit Pistons guard RJ Hampton. The Breakers are on pace to have their fourth player in four years chosen in the NBA Draft.

Walsh leads one of five American ownership groups in the NBL, under Breakers Basketball Ltd., and he and his business partners have other sports-related business endeavors, including Liga MX’s Necaxa soccer club and limited interest in Major League Pickleball.

The Kings, meanwhile, considered the most valuable club in the NBL, operate under the Hoops Capital Pty Ltd. umbrella, which includes a women’s team, the Sydney Flames, and basketball-related facilities and parks.

The Kings ownership group is smaller than that of the Breakers, with just four partners in majority owner and chairman Paul Smith, Tesla chairwoman Robyn Denholm, and Luc Longley, who like Bogut is an Aussie and former NBA champion.

With the Kings as the crown jewel, Smith’s group is deeply invested in Australia’s basketball economy. The club earlier this week announced a new $20 million publicly funded practice facility.

“I feel extra pressure to ensure that we continue to produce a winning program,” Smith said in an interview. “We can’t promise championships every year, but if we didn’t make the final series this year, I would’ve felt like that would’ve been a massive opportunity lost. But now we’re here and in it.”

Backed by a group of curious athlete investors and polished business partners, the Breakers and Kings serve as flagship franchises for a league seeking a higher profile. NBL owners are bullish on future media deals and outside strategic partnerships will significantly enhance the value of their clubs.

In the meantime, the Breakers look to dethrone the Kings and cement their identity as a growing basketball brand.

“I would be crushed if we didn’t win the championship,” Smith added. “I would be upset, but not devastated, because I know there would be a very deserving winner on the other side.”

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