Kings owner slams NBL, Wildcats over Grand final decision
Sydney Kings owner Paul Smith has sensationally claimed both NBL owner Larry Kestelman and the Perth Wildcats reneged on a handshake agreement by awarding the championship to the Wildcats.
Kestelman broke the hearts of Kings fans late on Thursday when he announced Perth as grand final winners after Sydney agreed to abandon the best-of-five series this week because of the coronavirus crisis.
The NBL was adamant it made the right call after seeking advice from its board, external lawyers and international governing body FIBA.
But a furious Smith told the Herald a deal had been struck between all three parties before game two in Perth last Friday that no champion would be declared if all five games of the series were not played. Games four and five were abandoned with the Wildcats leading the series 2-1.
"We had an explicit three-way conversation last Friday because the NBL could provide no guidance, they hadn't a clue what to do, with the scenarios that were unfolding," Smith said. “It was explicitly stated by the Wildcats and the Kings that neither was to have the championship without completing the five-game series. Explicit.
“That was last Friday before we played game two. We won game two. Imagine if we limped home two-down? That was before we won the game.”
The Wildcats earlier this week said they had wanted to play the series over three games — but the Kings refused.
On Tuesday, the Kings made the decision to abandon the series, not least because their overseas players said they wanted to fly home to their families.
“They [the NBL and Wildcats] have disregarded an agreement to put down the guns and play the five games out,” Smith said. “We both decided to not play in front of crowds to ensure player and community safety. The league had no interest in buying that. Larry Kestelman said, 'I just want you to realise that you can't come back for compensation from us’. That is the mentality of what you are dealing with.
“This is a void of leadership because it’s not leadership, it's ownership.”
There has been palpable tension between the Kings and the Wildcats all season. It escalated when Smith made disparaging remarks on Twitter about Perth trying to “corporatise” the Indigenous round with a self-indulgent playing strip.
He has also had run-ins with Kestelman, who phoned Smith minutes before the media conference.
“I think there’s always going to be an asterisk next to this season for all sorts of different reasons,” Kestelman said. “I don’t think this is a normal season. Whether it’s a physical asterisk or an asterisk in our head, we’re all gonna remember this one.”
NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said: "We've concluded that there is only one outcome that is appropriate in the circumstances of the league having made the decision to cancel games four and five of the finals series. Consequently, the champions of the 2019-20 NBL season are the Perth Wildcats ... In this instance, games four and five were cancelled by the League due to unforeseen circumstances pursuant to rule 34 of the NBL Operations Manual."
As for claims of a handshake agreement, Loeliger told RSN Radio on Wednesday: “There were a number of phone calls but to the best of my memory there was no agreement to that effect,” Loeliger told RSN radio on Wednesday. We discussed it as a possibility but I don’t believe there was any agreement.”
Late on Thursday night, an NBL spokesman said: “There was 100 per cent categorically no agreement.”
The club confirmed it was not going to appeal the decision, but was "confused" how rule 34 was applied to reach that decision.