NBL hopeful imports will be able to play

The National Basketball League is hopeful imports will be able to play in its competition this year.

It has confirmed an application has been made to Immigration New Zealand for about 20 players to be let in to the country under the critical workers’ exemption.

If successful, it is hoped players will arrive from late March to mid-April.

The league has had imports since its inception, although the number has fluctuated over its 40 years.

This year teams will be allowed two non-New Zealanders.

Traditionally, those players have been mostly Americans, although Australians have become prominent in recent years, too.

NBL general manager Justin Nelson hopes that will be able to continue, despite tight border regulations due to Covid-19.

"The value and importance of international players to our teams and the league is undeniable," he said.

"These players are critical to the competition if we are to continue growing this league, and we are following every direction being provided to us."

Nelson said having imports was important to the financial status of teams.

He said the reach those players had both commercially and in the community was important for the game.

Alongside that, he added the league had become an international product, notably signing a deal with ESPN, and having imports would help with international interest.

Two coaches also fell under the need for an exemption, notably Southland Sharks coach Rob Beveridge, an Australian.

A clash with the Australian NBL this year, due to Covid-19, also heightened the need for imports.

While traditionally players can play in both leagues, the clash would limit their ability to do so.

With 18 New Zealanders already signed with Australian NBL teams, that would have an impact on player stocks for 2021.

Nelson said he was supportive of the players taking the Australian opportunity, although the situation was unfortunate around timing.

The league is set to tip off in Dunedin on April 24, when the Otago Nuggets host the Wellington Saints.

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