10 May 2023

Love of the game has Jawai eyeing new NBL home

| Samuel Davis
Start the conversation

TRAILBLAZING hoops star Nate Jawai can lace up his high tops until the passion to play is gone as the Bamaga big man embraces a new role in the autumn years of his incredible career.

Jawai’s time as the Cairns Taipans’ show-stopping, rim-rattling centre in the NBL ended this week with the club confirming they parted ways with the club legend.

But the first Indigenous Australian to be drafted into the NBA is still hitting the hardwood, suiting up for the Darwin Salties in their inaugural season in the second-tier NBL1 competition.

“He’s been through a lot of coaches and programs and before I signed him the first thing I asked him was ‘Do you still love playing?’” Salties coach Matt Flinn said.

“I’ve coached a lot of guys who play because they’re good at it but if you love the game, it’s a different beast. The answer was ‘Yes’ and that’s all I needed to know.”

Finding joy in the game has reinvigorated Jawai, who’s also started a health-and-wellbeing program for kids while in Darwin.

“It’s a clean slate for me with a new club and I think I needed it,” Jawai told Cape York Weekly.

“I was probably in Cairns for too long, really. But I’ve been in unreal situations and real low situations throughout my career. It’s just about making it fun for yourself.

“It defines your character if you can push through it. Right now, I want to inspire my people in life and in basketball, so this is a great opportunity.”

Bamaga’s Nate Jawai is playing for the Darwin Salties in the NBL1 North competition this season.

Long-lauded for his imposing frame, Flinn said Jawai’s veteran savvy had stood out to him this season.

“His basketball IQ is really good. He’s had unbelievable coaches,” Flinn said.

“I’ve told him as soon as you decide you’re not playing anymore you’re walking into a job with me because he’s got it.

“When you talk to guys about basketball, philosophy is one thing but to come up with solutions on the fly is another and not everyone can do it.

“You can throw a blanket over the number of NBL coaches who can do it but he’s brilliant at it.”

A high calf strain has limited the former NBL champion’s impact on the court in recent weeks.

But Australian basketball great Andrew Gaze said he hopes Jawai isn’t lost to the NBL next season.

“My more recent memories are coaching against him and it was so difficult to contain him,” Gaze said.

“When he gets going it’s almost unfair because of his size and soft touch around the basket. It makes it hard to curtail.

“Based on what I’ve seen, a guy with his experience and size suggests to me he still has something to offer. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t (a club interested in him).

“Melbourne United have lost their bigs. Somewhere like that in a team that’s contending would be an excellent fit.”

Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze wants to see Nate Jawai play on at a new club.

And while Jawai is happy working and playing in the Top End, he hasn’t ruled out another season in the national competition.

“Obviously I’d like to keep the door open,” the proud Torres Strait Islander said.

“That was part of the plan when I came here but I haven’t really thought about it too much.

“Wherever this (time with Salties) takes me is fine. But I’ll just stay ready and make an impact if I do get a contract (in the NBL).”

Regardless, Flinn expects big Nate to be a Salty again next season.

“He still wants to play and I’ve signed him for next year too,” he said.

“I’ve told him, ‘As long as I’m coaching you can play as long as you want.’ The legacy he’s left on the sport in this country is incredible.”

Jawai is expected to return to the court in Round 13 against USC Rip City later this month.


  • Two-time QBL champion (2004, 2007)
  • NBL Rookie of the Year (2008)
  • NBL All Star Game MVP (2008)
  • Pick 41 in the 2008 NBA draft
  • Serbian League champion (2011)
  • Copa del Rey de Baloncesto winner (2013)
  • NBL champion (2016)

*Jawai played with the Cairns Taipans in 2007/08 before returning to the club for the 2016/17 season.

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.