NBL announces return of popular Christmas Day fixtures

April 14, 2023 08:04 AM AEST | By AAPNEWS
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The NBL will host two Christmas Day games this year after its success in 2022.

The Tasmania JackJumpers, the league's newest team, are set to meet South East Melbourne Phoenix at Hobart's MyState Bank Arena for the first game of the double-header at 5.30pm.

After spearheading the first Christmas night concept last season, reigning champions the Sydney Kings will then host intrastate rivals the Illawarra Hawks at 7.30pm.

Billed as a first for Australian sport, the Kings conceived and orchestrated the first Christmas night game last season in a bid to emulate the traditional NBA festive clashes.

Former NBA centre Andrew Bogut, a member of the Kings' ownership group, was a driving force behind the concept.

The match attracted more than 300,000 television viewers, the most of any NBL game to that point of the season, and sparked a run of strong home crowds for the eventual championship-winning Kings.

The Kings were always keen on the prospect of hosting more Christmas matches and the league locked the 2023 editions in on Friday morning.

"After the incredible response we had last year it was important for us to schedule a huge Christmas double-header this season," said league owner Larry Kestelman.

"We were the first professional sport to play a game on Christmas and as our league continues to grow, we want to keep breaking new ground and innovating."

The NBL will announce the remainder of its fixture on April 20.

American teenage prodigy AJ Johnson is poised to take part in the festivities after joining the Illawarra Hawks as part of the NBL's Next Star Program.

The 196cm guard is expected to be selected with a first-round pick of the 2024 NBA Draft and has de-committed from the University of Texas to join the Hawks.

Illawarra will hope the guard can help them improve on their last-placed finish in the injury-plagued first season of Jacob Jackomas' coaching tenure.

"Johnson is a tantalising prospect," said NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger.

"Signing with the Hawks provides him with the perfect platform to work on his game, gain experience in a professional environment, and see his NBA draft stocks rise," Loeliger said.

Introduced in the 2018/19 season, the Next Star Program allows elite young talent to hone their skills with an NBL side before nominating for the NBA draft.

Next Stars are not counted towards a team's quota of three import players and previous participants in the program include current NBA players LaMelo Ball, Josh Giddey and Ousmane Dieng.


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