NBA All-Star Ben Simmons in line to promote Victoria to the world
Ben Simmons has represented Victoria on the big stage throughout his career but the NBA All-Star could be handed a more official role when he plays for the Australian Boomers later this year.
The 22 year old Philadelphia 76ers star stole the headlines on Wednesday when he announced he would be playing for the Boomers during their FIBA World Cup campaign in August and September.
Simmons made the announcement via his social media channels stating he would play for the Boomers in their "upcoming events" which include the two-game series with Team USA at Marvel Stadium on August 22 and 24 then the FIBA World Cup in China from August 31-September 16.
It's understood Simmons will be signed up to a lucrative deal to promote Victoria for the state government.
His appearance with the Boomers this August will boost interest even further in the two USA games which are expected to draw over 100,000 supporters plus scores of international attention while Simmons will be a major drawcard at the World Cup with several US superstars like LeBron James not expected to play and basketball's status as the national sport in China.
The state government wouldn't confirm if Simmons would be signed as any promotional or ambassador role on Wednesday but Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Martin Pakula was quick to commend Simmons for his decision.
"This is huge news for basketball lovers who will travel from all corners of Australia to watch our Boomers take on Team USA at Marvel Stadium this August," Pakula said.
"Ben is an absolute star of the NBA and it will be great to see him play in front of a massive home crowd in Melbourne.
"Securing this basketball blockbuster series for Victoria confirms Melbourne as Australia's sporting capital and a global major events mecca."
Simmons spent part of his early years in Newcastle as his dad Dave Simmons finished his NBL career but the family moved back to Melbourne where Ben played for Victoria Metro at under-16 level and for Box Hill Senior Secondary College.
When he appeared in Melbourne last winter Simmons wasn't able to say if he would be playing for Australia this year due to uncertainty around his contract extension with the 76ers and his shoe deal with Nike which is due for renegotiation.
Simmons is eligible for a US$158 million (AU$228 million), five-year extension which he is expected to receive after he became the first Australian-raised player to be an NBA All-Star this season.
The USA team will be filled with elite NBA players while the Boomers expect to have almost all Australia's NBA players although Victorian and Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum is out due to a knee injury.
The Visit Victoria twitter account, @Melbourne, was among those who shared the Simmons video on Wednesday and drove the push to bring the USA games to Melbourne.
Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze praised Simmons and said playing at this year's World Cup would further boost his profile here and overseas.
"Ben has always been very positive in his desire to want to play for Australia," Gaze said.
"That makes me feel good as it's not just about him wanting to play at the World Cup, it's also him wanting to represent us.
"Despite his travels, he still has a great affinity for this country and wants to be a part of it."
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