Basketball: National Basketball League imports cleared as 'critical workers' by NZ Immigration

The New Zealand NBL has received a boost, with a Government exemption that allows overseas imports into the country during COVID-19. 

Newshub can reveal that 18 import players and two coaches have been granted "critical worker" status for the season that begins in April. 

When NBL general manager Justin Nelson checked his phone on Friday morning, he couldn't help but crack a smile, after receiving news the league's application to Immigration New Zealand had been successful.

"The bar is exceptionally high with the talent coming in," says Nelson. "These are legit players coming in -  more than 10 of them have links to NBA programmes."

Those players include point guard Josh Selby, a former NBA Summer League MVP, who played for Memphis Grizzlies, and former Brisbane Bullets ANBL star EJ Singler.

The move from the United States' coronavirus problem to NZ is exciting beyond the basketball factor.

"To have a beer and not worry about who you're sitting next to, or actually give someone a hug," says Singler, who previously played for Hawke’s Bay Hawks, but has signed with Canterbury Rams this year.

"I haven't done that in, like, six months."

Last year, the league was one of domestic sport's success stories, despite having to play without overseas recruits.

Nelson believes this latest news will take them to new heights.

"They now have legitimately a top-line national competition that they can get out and support right around the country," he says.

The successful application for critical workers status is also music to the ears for the league's nine franchises.

"Just the engagement with the fans, sponsors," says Rams coach Mick Downer. "All around, the product is just a higher standard and better, which is great for New Zealand players."

One of those will be former US college star Jack Salt, who hopes to take the next step in his career through the NBL.

"I mean, it's huge for my own development, but every single player in New Zealand gets to go against better competition now and that's huge," says Salt.

The decision is huge for basketball, but whether it could set a precedent for other sporting codes hoping for similar exemptions remains to be seen.