Perth declared NBL champions 2 days after finals canceled

SYDNEY (AP) — The Perth Wildcards have been declared National Basketball League champions two days after the last two games of the finals series were canceled because the Sydney Kings refused to travel to Western Australia amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Perth was leading the best-of-five game series 2-1 and was set to play at home on Friday night when the NBL called an end to the season.

The Kings, featuring Australian former NBA star Andrew Bogut, led the regular season from start to finish. The club believed they had a claim on the title because their decision not to fly to Perth was based on travel restrictions and social-distancing measures being imposed by the government.

NBL owner Larry Kestelman on Thursday said he respected the Kings’ decision, based on the health and welfare of the players, but there had to be a champion.

”At the end of a 135 game season, including six semi-final games and three grand final games and with Perth leading the series 2-1, we were left with having to make a decision about whether we award a championship after what has been one of the biggest and best ever seasons,” he said.

NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said the decision was taken after advice from the NBL directors, basketball’s international governing body and external legal advisers based on the league’s operations manual, which deals with games canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.

”We have concluded that there is only one outcome that is most appropriate in the circumstances,” he said. ”Consequently, the champions of the 2019-20 NBL season are the Perth Wildcats.”

It was Perth’s 10th NBL title, and the third time as back-to-back champions.

Bogut let his displeasure be known. He congratulated the Wildcats on the title but in a social media post he said ”I want to go on record to say I am beyond embarrassed and disappointed in regards to how this was handled by our league from the week leading up to the grand final series.”

Kings owner Paul Smith said he expressed ”no disappointment” to Kestelman when informed of the decision.

”My only emotion is pride in what we did to support our players and the players dignity they have shown themselves, in contrast with others,” he said.

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