For the second time in a month the NBL is making headlines in the NBA media. LaMelo Ball, the youngest brother of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball, has announced he will be signing with the Illawarra Hawks for the 2019-20 NBA season.
The love between the city of Perth and Rob Beveridge is genuine, which is why there is mixed feelings on both sides as he leads his Illawarra Hawks into the NBL grand final against the Wildcats.
Beveridge and the ‘Cats is a little different, though, as he looks to topple his former club.
He won a championship as coach of the Wildcats in 2010 as part of a tremendously successful four-year run that included three grand final appearances and another trip to the semi-finals.
Beveridge became just about the most popular coach in the club’s history as well and Beveridge and his family quickly fell in love with living in Perth.
They thought they were in it for the long haul but following the grand final loss to the New Zealand Breakers in 2012, the Wildcats and Beveridge parted ways throwing everything up in the air for him and his family.
He ended up appointed Hawks coach ahead of the 2015-16 season and has proved just why he is considered one of the best coaches the NBL has seen.
Last year, he took the Hawks to the semi-finals only to lose to the Wildcats in three games.
Against the odds and despite having a budget far inferior than the likes of the Sydney Kings and Melbourne United operate with, he has taken Illawarra to the grand final having upset the minor premier Adelaide 36ers in the semi-finals in three games.
Beveridge and his family will always have a soft spot for Perth with his wife Suellen and children Jaydon, Annie and Noah only joining him in Wollongong just before Christmas last year.
The rivalry with the Wildcats is real, though, despite the fact that the Perth fans will always adore Beveridge and he will always have a soft spot for them.
Once Game 1 hits on Sunday, there is no room for sentiment and Beveridge will be trying to topple the NBL powerhouse who are in their 31st-straight playoff series, 13th grand final and hunting an eighth championship.
The Hawks might be considered underdogs with the absence of Marvelle Harris for Game 1 and injury cloud over AJ Ogilvy, but that would be disrespecting the passion they found and skill to execute to beat Adelaide in the semi-finals.
If there is anything that inspires Beveridge it is having his back against the wall and that’s the case coming into this best of five-game grand final series.
Last time Beveridge was in Perth, it was an emotional trip as he and his family were packing up their family home ahead of the permanent move to Wollongong.
It was Beveridge’s last time coming to Perth with his family still calling it home and to top it off, he was taking on a Wildcats team here the Hawks had lost their last 25 trips to the city.
The Hawks had not won in Perth since November 5, 2005 but it was fitting that Beveridge got to farewell his life in Perth with the drought breaking victory.
The challenge is to back it up in Game 1 of the grand final series on Sunday.
If the Hawks can snatch one of the games at Perth Arena, they put themselves in a good spot to try and win their first championship since 2001.
Beveridge will always be proud of his family’s life in Perth and of the legacy he will always have at the Wildcats. But now his focus is on something similar with the Hawks and the Illawarra community.
“You look at the sacrifices and commitment that the family has made to let me move away from them, but now I can actually share my new world with them that I’ve built here in Wollongong. It’s great that they are going to be part of it and that’s what family is about,” Beveridge said.
“Family is so incredibly important because when I was with Sydney Spirit when they folded, it was amazing that when things go bad, the family is there for you. You come across a lot of false people in this profession but you know you can rely on your family no matter what.
“It has been a great learning experience for me that the family are the ones who you will be with you and your closest friends, so they are the ones who matter the most in my life.
“You have to make sacrifices for each other and my family has done more for me than I have for them, and I owe them so much. I’m now committed to Illawarra and building something special here and I believe we are on the right track. I want to leave a legacy here like I did at Perth.”
Reflecting on his time coaching the Wildcats, Beveridge will always have fond memories of the job he was able to do to basically rebuilt the playing stocks into one that won a championship and went to three grand finals.
But after that four years, he just knew that he had to get out of that environment. He didn’t know what that would mean and it took some time for him to discover what his true passion was, and that is coaching in the NBL.
“When I left the Wildcats I was emotionally, mentally and physically burnt out. I had to move on for my own mental health and for the sake of my family because there is so much pressure in that job, and that transfers onto your family,” Beveridge said.
“I took a few months off and ended up going to China for four months and that’s when the time away from the family started. I came back and started to work my own small business coaching kids, but it wasn’t pushing my buttons.
“I’m an elite coach at the end of the day and that’s what gets my juices flowing. When the opportunity came up with Illawarra, it was actually my two eldest kids who were telling me to do it more than anyone.
“They recognised that I needed to do it and I’ve been together with my wife 25 years now, and I don’t know if she knew what she was getting herself into. For her to put up with me and the moves is just incredible, but I couldn’t do it without her support.”
Beveridge will always be regarded as an outstanding NBL coach. If he can win a championship with this Hawks team up against his powerhouse old side, he goes up another notch.
Standing in the way are the Wildcats. They are healthy and rested after beating the Cairns Taipans in two games, and have home-court advantage.
The addition of Bryce Cotton late in the season has helped lift them into the grand final.
One Wildcats player getting his first taste of an NBL grand final and looking for a first championship is centre Jameel McKay.
He has nothing but respect for the Hawks but is looking forward to seeing what Perth Arena has in store for Game 1 on Sunday.
“I’m excited for the chance to win a championship and for the chance for the club to go back-to-back, and the chance to just go out and showcase our abilities as individuals and as a team. Hopefully I can help the team to dominate and win the games,” McKay said.
“The last game to close out the series was crazy and I hear it gets better during the grand final. I’m definitely excited for that and to have home-court advantage is great, but you can’t look to that to guarantee anything.
“We still have to go out there and play, and hopefully we do that and the chips fall into place. I always thought the Hawks were really talented and could score a lot.
“We like to score but we pride ourselves on the defence and stopping the ball, but they pride themselves on outscoring you. There’s that contrast in styles but whoever imposes their will the most will be the team who will be successful in the series.”
NBL grand final fixtures (AEDT)
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 26
GAME 1: Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks – Perth Arena, 7pm
WEDNESDAY MARCH 1
GAME 2: Illawarra Hawks v Perth Wildcats – WIN Entertainment Centre 7.30pm
SUNDAY MARCH 5
GAME 3: Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks – Perth Arena 3pm
FRIDAY MARCH 10
GAME 4: Illawarra Hawks v Perth Wildcats – WIN Entertainment Centre 7.30pm
SUNDAY MARCH 12
GAME 5: Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks – Perth Arena 7pm