The special connection between the Illawarra Hawks and their fans is what’s drawn former captain and retired player Kevin White back to the club in a new off-court role.
White was a revered player with the Hawks from 2015-19 and was captain for one of the most successful periods of the club’s history under coach Rob Beveridge, but inner turmoil at the Hawks and opportunity saw him effectively play out his career in Adelaide and then Perth.
After a brief stint as an injury-list replacement with the Hawks, White last year took on a role with the Illawarra Basketball Association before now being offered the role of general manager of community at the Hawks.
For White, it’s a reconnection of a love affair between Hawks fans and the Illawarra region.
“The Hawks and the fans have a pretty unique and close connection – it’s something pretty special, really,” he said.
“I don’t think any other club has that connection.
“When I moved down from Sydney [in 2015], as soon as I walked in the door from day one, it was like wow, this is a really special place.
“I think as we move forward as a club, telling some of that history, telling some of those stories, and really connecting with the past and selling that is important.
“I love what the club has built throughout the years.
“The fact that you’re diving into the only standing foundation club of the NBL.
“Then you look at what the people in this region and area have done for the Hawks themselves.
“When you have people refinancing and remortgaging their houses to help pay players’ wages and then at one point in time, I think every member had a stake in the club to keep it afloat, it shows you how passionate the region is about the club and the team.”
White said that fan connection went deeper than giving a high five, shaking someone’s hand or getting a photo after a game.
“There’s people who approach me in the street and still talk about games that I played for this club, talk about games that Gordie McLeod played for this club,” he said.
“They talk about seeing Sav [Glen Saville] and connecting with Troy Pilon having a coffee – little things like that where they mean so much to this community.”
He said the other interesting distinction was once players moved to the Illawarra, regardless of where they were from, they often ended up calling the Illawarra home.
In his role, White is keen to foster a greater and genuine relationship with the Indigenous community and basketball already forged via Hawks teammate Tyson Demos, refine the club’s schools program and strengthen inclusivity through women’s basketball and links with the Roller Hawks.
“It’s an exciting time for the club in terms of there’s more staff there than the club’s ever had and now using those resources and the people in there to drive it and build out what we can,” he said.
He said the club’s history had been to just keep its head above water, whereas now it was working on programs to grow the club and its offerings and attract more members.
White reflects fondly on his on-court career with the club, admitting the grand final series where the Hawks lost to Perth was his favourite memory.
“You never want those days to end,” he said.
“I still remember Jemaine Beal saying to me that 5000 people were louder than the 14,000 they had at RAC Arena [in Perth].
“I get goosebumps talking about it now.”
For now, he is glad to be back in the Illawarra with his wife, Rachael, and their two young boys and back at the club he loves.
“I’ve always loved the Illawarra,” he said.
“I never really wanted to leave.
“There were decisions made at the time that I needed to make financially for my family, and as a professional athlete you have a short window to maximise and make the most of those opportunities.
“For me, and for my family, it was just the right decision to move away when we initially moved to Adelaide and then on to Perth.
“We bought property here my last year with the Hawks.
“My first son was born in that last year I played with the club and I just love everything about the region.”
Already, his boys are running around with Mini Hawks.
“Quinn knows that I now work in that space so he gets in there and then just wants to come and sit with me at the office,” he said.
“But my two-year-old, Fletcher, he is gung-ho and he loves it. It’s cool to see.”