HOOP’S DREAMS ARE ALIVE AT SAITAMA SUPER ARENA

TRISTIN CLINT WRITTEN — The 2022 NBA Japan Games ended last weekend with the Golden State Warriors winning both exhibition games against the Washington Wizards. This two-game bundle, which debuted on September 30emarked not only the sixteenth NBA game hosted by Japan, but also the first to be played in Japan since 2019, when more than 20,000 people (roughly the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden) flocked to the Saitama Super Arena to look at the then reigning NBA. the champion team, the Toronto Raptors, faces the Houston Rockets.

The NBA Japan Games 2022 was special for a multitude of reasons: first, because the Golden State Warriors attract fans internationally; second, because it was their first game since winning the NBA Finals in June; and third, the opposing team, the Washington Wizards, made NBA history in 2019 by selecting Rui Hachimura as 9e overall draft pick, making him the first player of Japanese descent to be drafted in the first round.

Hachimura, in an interview after the series of exhibitions, enthused: “I am so happy to take this trip as a team… I was able to share my culture and the beauty of this country with my teammates, and I think that they loved it. ”

And so, apparently, he did. Hachimura put on a show for the home crowd in both games. In 25 minutes of action in Game 1, he led his team, scoring 13 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, spending the most time on the floor of any Wizards. Super Arena fans were extremely excited. Much of the same happened the next day, for Game 2 of the series, when Hachimura recorded a double-double, with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes of action (more than anyone in the two teams). Fans were thrilled to witness reigning Finals MVP superstar Stephen Curry (whose replica jersey was worn by many fans at games) and defending champion Warriors, as well as the story welfare from their hometown involving Rui Hachimura.

Japan has a rich history of talented athletes in all sports in general, but successes are usually attributed to baseball, not basketball. Sports fans revere the generational talent of reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani and were introduced to the Chicago Cubs’ new Japanese star Seiya Suzuki. So it’s easy to overlook up-and-coming basketball players like Hachimura as well as Yuta Watanabe, who just signed a deal with the Brooklyn Nets.

Hachimura and Watanabe are currently the only two Japanese players on NBA rosters, but exhibition events such as the NBA Japan Games 2022 could well lead to an increase in the league’s international reach. In that regard, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr called this series a “hugely important and impactful journey.”

If the NBA truly values ​​international reach, especially in markets like Japan, it should aim to once again establish Japan as the site for regular season games. While 1990 marked the first time Japan hosted an NBA regular season game played outside the United States, one would have to fast forward almost twenty years to 2003 to find the most recent game, when the LA Clippers played the Seattle Supersonics – and the Supersonics don’t exist anymore!

Despite this long absence of a regular season in Japan, there is room for optimism: the NBA’s first regular season game outside the United States since 2020 will be played on January 19, 2023 in Paris. Next stop: Japan?

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