NBA ICON BACKS BBL RETURN TO BIRMINGHAM

Birmingham could be primed for a new BBL team – with Hakeem Olajuwon as its figurehead.

MVP can reveal that a consortium of investors is set to draft a proposal for the first British Basketball League franchise in the city in over a decade, with the former Houston Rockets superstar among the central players involved.

The Olympic gold medallist, who now lives primarily in Brum, is already involved with the existing City of Birmingham Rockets club.

Its chairman, Kirk Dawes and managing director, Rob Palmer, are also part of the group – offering a ready-made developmental infrastructure – along with the BBL’s former Commercial Director Bob Hope, who held a key role in the inception of the Midlands’ previous long-running franchise, Birmingham Bullets.

It is understood that the outline plans have attracted potential investors from overseas with a preferred playing base likely to be either at Arena Birmingham or the NEC Arena. Work will now begin on a feasibility study and business plan, having officially registered its interest with the league.

Olajuwon said: “When I came to this great city, I found a jewel in the form of City of Birmingham Rockets Basketball Club, with so many kids from all races and cultures in this vibrant city working together. It was natural for me to become involved.

“Seven years ago, I asked the question, where is the professional club? People told me about the great days of Birmingham Bullets and how the city no longer had a franchise. However, on being introduced to Kirk and Rob, I saw the club’s commitment to the game and to the development of the kids.

“This is excellent news, finding people we can work with who will partner our fantastic development programme and bring the professional game back to Birmingham.”

With American investment vehicle, 777 Partners, buying a 45 per cent stake in the BBL last year, franchise fees are set to rise from their existing stated sum of £150,000 with one source claiming the targeted asking price will be closer to £1m.

But Hope, who is heading up the Birmingham project, believes his group can speedily help fulfil 777’s declared ambition of finding “up to four new franchises”.

“Some of the best years of my career were based in this vibrant city, when, in 1980 I and some colleagues, at the request of Doug Ellis (director of Aston Villa FC) moved Team Fiat from Coventry to Birmingham,” he said.

“While I was head coach and general manager for the renamed team, the Birmingham Bullets, the club and the sport thrived. The establishment of a new professional team in Birmingham will give the city a real boost, especially coming off the back of the Commonwealth Games this summer.”

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