Mills wants to give Tall Blacks new lease of life

MAN WITH THE PLAN: Nick Mills wants to save the Tall Blacks from extinction by leasing their brand.
MAN WITH THE PLAN: Nick Mills wants to save the Tall Blacks from extinction by leasing their brand.

Wellington Saints owner Nick Mills has hatched a left field plan to lease the Tall Blacks brand in a bid to stop the sport dying at international level.

High Performance Sport New Zealand culled Basketball NZ's funding on Tuesday, leaving chief executive Iain Potter at a crossroads and without a budget for any international programme.

Mills was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for services to basketball this year after 30 years and seven national titles as Saints owner.

He said he was deadly serious about a proposal to lease the Tall Blacks brand for up to three years, while Potter said he would meet Mills and "consider all options."

Mills, whose family business includes six Wellington bars, said he would be willing to accept any financial risk associated with such an innovative deal.

Potter said as long as BBNZ complied with FIBA's regulations, in theory there was no reason why it wouldn't be possible.

Mills, a former BBNZ board member, wants to revive the Tall Blacks brand by bringing high profile teams to tour NZ.

"My frustration over the way the sport has been run by the national body over a long time has got to me," Mills said.

"But I am 110 per cent behind Iain so when I heard that the funding had been slashed, I thought well they need someone with ideas rather than just sitting there running a sausage sizzle on the side of the road.

"You need someone to come up with innovative ideas, like bringing international teams to NZ and generating money for the brand. I think Iain's the right guy to take us to the next level. But with no support and no backing, how can he do it?"

Asked where the money would come from, Mills said: "my philosophy in business is very simple. First have the dream and then get the money. We've got six bars in the family and we're opening a seventh next year. So we're not small fry in business."

Having hatched the idea, Mills said he would be thrilled if other businesspeople, such as Breakers owners Paul and Liz Blackwell, also got involved.

"If someone else comes in with more money and power then even better. Theoretically we could have the Dream Team playing the Tall Blacks at Vector Arena. There's nothing stopping us, the only thing that's ever stopped the game growing is a lack of vision from the organisation and the board. If private business and enterprise ran the thing, imagine how big it could get."

As well as owning the profit and losses of such a venture, Mills said he would want to have "some say" in who coached the side.

Mills said the Saints lost money "nine out of every 10 years" but "as long as you're passionate and that loss is controlled, that's fine."

Potter praised Mills as a "left field thinker" and said he would meet with him to pursue the idea further.

"We have to consider all options and it's really essential that the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns brands be kept alive," Potter said.

"That is a worry, that if you're not seen, you don't exist do you? You'd have to be careful because you have to comply with international basketball, FIBA regulations about who's in control of national teams. But there is always a way."

Potter had asked HPSNZ for $750,000, spread over two years to help the world No 18 Tall Blacks try and achieve a top-16 finish at the 2014 World Cup.

But they were knocked back because they weren't a realistic medal prospect.

Basketball received $500,000 this year (men $350,000, women $150,000) but both teams failed in their Olympic qualification bids.

Meanwhile, Wellington's TSB Bank Arena will host a pre-season game between the Breakers and the Melbourne Tigers on September 12 next year.

The Dominion Post