EVERYONE just knew the game between the Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers – the first clash between likely top 10 NBA Draft selections LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton was going to be huge. What fans received was nothing short of expectations when in the very first possession for the Hawks, Hampton swatted Ball’s shot nearly into the stands. Every fan watching at home was on the edge of their seat as the large American audience tuned in for a battle between the future stars of their league. What other way could you explain the most-watched NBL game in history? Hampton, a silky smooth combo guard with size, going up against Ball, a flashy playmaker who also might be the most well known teenage basketball player outside the NBA. The two future stars put on a performance in Illawarra, showcasing exactly why they are ranked as some of the best basketball recruits on the planet.
The night might go down as the first of many, many meetings between the two as they progress throughout their careers. The expectations for the duo ranged from just quality NBA players to carrying basketball entertainment for generations. Since the prospects decided to shake up the college and professional basketball landscapes by opting to play in the NBL, they have strengthened the league more than anything else ever could. In fact just Ball’s debut game for the NBL was at the time, the most watched game in NBL history. The duo drew over a million new fans on the NBL’s Facebook page, but could only play face-to-face once all season, making this moment all the more special.
The showdown took place in front of 16 NBA scouts. That is more than half of the NBA having a representative to watch a Round 4 matchup between the two lowly ranked sides in Illawarra Hawks and the New Zealand Breakers. That is how much magnitude these stars behold just playing on the same floor. But Hampton looked to be as relaxed as ever, as his Breakers led a one-sided first quarter ending at 30-18. It was more of the same in the second, and even with Ball hitting back-to-back threes within the space of a minute, New Zealand had all but killed off any chance of a comeback, blowing its lead out to 27 points to end the fourth. But Ball was not going to leave without giving his fans something to remember. After a contested layup from Aaron Brooks missed, Ball came flying in from the baseline before throwing down a huge one handed put-back dunk. Even the Breaker fans got out of their seats. What a historic moment in NBL history.
Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:
#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview
#7 Bryce Cotton hits game winner in grand final rematch
#6 Casper Ware torches former team in regular season
#5 Greatest comeback in NBL history
#4 LaMelo Ball posts back-to-back triple doubles
#3 John Roberson’s 21 points in last six minutes to win game
#2 LaMelo and RJ go at it