Aussie NBL Finals series canceled, champion to be confirmed

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              FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2019, file photo, LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks carries the ball up during their game against the Sydney Kings in the Australian Basketball League in Sydney.  LaMelo Ball's bone bruise on his left foot is expected to keep him out of the Illawarra Hawks lineup for the remainder of the National Basketball League season in Australia. The 18-year-old American, who joined Illawarra as part of the NBL's Next Stars program, is expected to be a first-round pick in this year's NBA draft.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
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SYDNEY (AP) — The last two games of Australia’s National Basketball League grand final series have been canceled, with a championship winner yet to be confirmed.

The defending champion Perth Wildcats had a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five game series over the Sydney Kings.

The second and third games of the series were played in empty stadiums because of the spread of the coronavirus. The fourth game was scheduled for Friday night in Perth, but the Kings were reluctant to travel amid uncertainty as the virus spreads and speculation of a quarantine period for all people arriving in Western Australia state.

NBL owner Larry Kestelman issued a statement saying organizers “will now consider a decision on the outcome of the championship over the next 48 hours.”

“We respect the decision in what are extraordinary times for everyone,” Kestelman said. “We are understanding of not just the players’ health and well-being but also their desire to be with their families, especially given so many of them have family overseas.

The Kings led the regular season from the first round to the last, but the Wildcats won games 1 and 3 of the grand final series and could have clinched the title at home with a win on Friday night.

The Australian Associated Press described the sudden ending as “a bizarre conclusion to arguably the league’s most successful season that, thanks to the performances of NBA hopefuls LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton and Didi Louzada, ensured record crowds both in stadiums and online.”

Sydney Kings coach Will Weaver said the relevance of the competition “is so greatly diminished” by the pandemic.

“Not to be flippant, but it couldn’t matter less to us in the scheme of things,” Weaver said in response to questions about the process of deciding a champion.

“Personally I would be willing to risk a lot to have the chance to compete and win the championship and know that’s the view of any of our players,” he said. “But I’m proud that the decision was made to reflect the fact our competitive desires are well and truly secondary.”

More than 182,000 people have been infected and 7,100 killed in the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. More than 79,000 people have recovered from it so far, mostly in China.

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