LaMelo Ball’s debut for the Illawarra Hawks against the Brisbane Bullets was the most watched National Basketball League (NBL) game in history with more than 1 million viewers on Facebook in the US, according to the league.
The NBL recently signed a deal with Facebook to stream its matches in the US on the Watch platform, with further US interest being driven by another 2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft prospect, RJ Hampton. The 18-year-old Texan plays for New Zealand Breakers, who have been touring the US for their pre-season.
Ball’s impact was also felt by the NBL on social media, with one highlight clip racking up more than 2 million views and the league Instagram account registering more than 4.5 million impressions during the first round of games. Overall engagement on the NBL's Facebook page has increased 250 per cent year on year, with Twitter up 350 per cent on last season.
The NBL's new domestic TV rights deal with SBS Viceland and ESPN also began with the round one fixtures, but league owner Larry Kestelman was most taken by the overseas audience.
"These are huge numbers by any measure and confirm the NBL's status as a global entertainment product," Kestelman told reporters in Australia.
"They also reinforce our position as the best basketball league in the world outside of the NBA during what is a very exciting time for the sport in Australia and New Zealand.
"There is obviously a lot of interest in LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton ahead of next year's NBA draft but also the NBL and basketball here more broadly.
"Our games are being broadcast to a potential reach of 130 million people across the world including the US, Europe and Asia but our numbers are also exploding across all social media platforms.
"As a global sport and entertainment product we are in a unique position to capitalise on this as we continue to grow the league both here and around the world in the years to come."
Ball, the 18-year-old 2020 NBA draft prospect and social media star, opted against pursuing a college career after high school. Last year he played for Lithuanian professional side Prienai as a 16-year-old and now he has joined Australia’s top basketball league.
LaMelo’s profile was initially driven by his outspoken father, Lavar, and the Ball family’s Facebook Watch reality show, Ball in the Family. However, LaMelo now has a strong personal brand, with more than 6 million followers across his social media profiles, eclipsing the following of the hotly-tipped 2019 NBA first overall draft pick Zion Williamson.
LaMelo’s older brother, Lonzo, was the second overall draft pick in 2017 for the Los Angeles Lakers before being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans this summer.