The New Zealand National Basketball League has taken a hit, with 2012 champions the Auckland Pirates announcing they will not defend their title.
The Pirates have withdrawn from the NBL with Basketball Auckland revealing their financial model was unsustainable.
The Pirates withdrawal follows just one season after perennial title contenders the Waikato Pistons dropped out and two years after the Christchurch Cougars withdrew, leaving three of New Zealand's biggest cities without a side in the national league. The Harbour Heat are not yet confirmed but would be the sole representatives of the Auckland region.
In the last five NBL seasons, only the Nelson Giants, Taranaki Mountain Airs, Hawke's Bay Hawks, Wellington Saints and Manawatu Jets have consistently appeared.
Basketball Auckland chairman Chris Ford said the franchise intended to field a team again in the future.
"The NBL remains New Zealand's premier domestic basketball competition and Auckland teams have a great history of success over the years," says Ford. "While it's disappointing not to have the Pirates in the league next season the BA board is committed to working with its partners to find a workable solution for future years."
The Pirates roster included Breakers big man Alex Pledger and forward Dillon Boucher as well as Tall Blacks Lindsay Tait and Hayden Allen.
The withdrawal also comes in the same year that former Auckland Stars owner and Tall Blacks coach Tab Baldwin returns to the league as coach of the Hawks.
The Stars franchise was bounced from the league in 2010 after falling into financial strife, failing to pay some players and coaching staff. They were replaced by the Pirates last season.
NBL chairman Sam Rossiter-Stead added: "Obviously it is disappointing that the Pirates will not compete in 2013, especially having come such a long way in a short time. The NBL board will continue working to ensure that the league has full representation from the greater Auckland region."
"Basketball Auckland have got their reasons for withdrawing, obviously their circumstances have changed but it is essential we are a truly nationally represented league and we will continue to work with all the associations around the country to make sure that happens."
The Pirates programme will continue to operate locally with a focus on player development.
Rossiter-Stead said an announcement was due at the end of next week and some positive steps forward for the league would be revealed, as well as the confirmed teams.
He said the league had a returned a small surplus in the last four seasons, a significant improvement from 2008 where they had a six-figure debt, and crowd numbers had been steadily increasing each season.
So far the Saints, Mountain Airs, Giants, Hawks and Southland Sharks have indicated they will compete in the 2013 season.
- © Fairfax NZ News