Japan postpones basketball league again after 'chaotic' restart, concerns amid coronavirus

Ryan Young
·3 min read

Several basketball leagues across Asia are getting ready to start back up after taking a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan, however, seemed to jump the gun.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

Japan’s B League, the top league in the country, attempted to restart this week. It announced that it will postpone its season again until April 1 after that restart provided a “chaotic weekend” of games, according to ESPN and the Japan Times.

One game was called off on Saturday just before it was set to tip after three players had a fever, per the report. Three players in a different game decided to sit out due to concerns about the coronavirus, too, and a third game on Sunday was canceled after an official had a fever.

All games in the league were going to be held without fans until April 1.

“Rather than asking whether or not we should have spectators, we have to wonder if we should restart this sport, in which you have a lot of contact and drops [of saliva] and sweat,” Chiba Jets Funabashi coach Atsushi Ono said, via the Japan Times. “And we didn’t dare tell them to play regardless of the situation. So we would like [the league] to consider the feelings of the players.”

Jeff Ayres returns to the United States

Instead of playing with the Shiga Lakestars in Japan after the restart, former Arizona State standout and San Antonio Spurs big man Jeff Ayres opted to sit out and actually return home to the United States.

"I decided not to practice or play due to concern regarding how the league, and my team specifically, was doing to keep players safe," Ayres said, via ESPN. "I felt we were putting ourselves at risk. It was a reckless environment."

Ayres, who was the No. 31 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft and spent six seasons in the league before moving overseas, was leading the Japanese league in rebounding this season with the Lakestars before he opted to leave.

He expressed numerous concerns about how the league was handling the outbreak, and told ESPN that his team wasn’t following any of the recommended measures and that the league “wasn’t doing anything to prevent us from getting sick.”

His wife is also pregnant with their third child, and Ayres was concerned about being able to travel back home.

“The team is now saying they will terminate my contract due to breach because I decided to leave,” Ayres said, via ESPN. “The league was mostly concerned about sponsorship money and that teams would go bankrupt. They were more worried about their bottom line than the safety of players. Japanese players were also voicing concerns.

"I do believe that the pressure of hosting the Olympics had something to do with that. They need to show people that Japan is safe so they could get tourism going again. They kept saying they have this contained. How do you know that when you don't have enough tests to test people? The numbers say you don't know who has it and where.”

Japan has more than 1,600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Saturday night, according to the New York Times. There are more than 292,000 confirmed cases worldwide and more than 12,700 people have died due to the virus.

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