Rui Hachimura has yet to play in an official NBA game, but both the league and the Washington Wizards know what the former Gonzaga standout is bringing to the table.
Hachimura, who is the first Japanese player ever selected in the first round of the NBA draft, could open up an entirely new country to the Wizards — and the league in general.
“There’s definitely a lot of momentum and excitement,” Jim Van Stone, president of business operations for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, told the Washington Post. “I think the Japanese market is potentially a booming market for basketball. It’s traditionally been a baseball marketplace, but we think with the globalness that basketball provides, Japan is really a great opportunity.”
Hachimura averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season while leading Gonzaga to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, and was the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft in June, making him just the second Japanese player ever selected in the draft. He played for Japan at the FIBA World Cup this summer, though he missed their final two games due to “knee discomfort and general fatigue.”
The Wizards have completely embraced their new rookie, too. Per the report, the team has launched an official team website and Twitter account in Japanese shortly after he was drafted and hired Zac Ikuma, a Japanese correspondent, to cover Hachimura and the Wizards exclusively for the Japanese audience.
“We think it’s a really unique opportunity for us to really grow our brand in Japan,” Van Stone said, via the Washington Post. “We’ve really taken an aggressive thought process to it and making sure we’re authentic in the process.”
The NBA ‘is in great shape’ in Japan
The NBA is still in damage control after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voiced his support on Twitter for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong — which sparked a wave of backlash and criticism around the world in the hours and days that followed. LeBron James even found himself in hot water this week after speaking out about the controversy.
All of this was while the NBA was hosting exhibition games in Asia, including multiple games in China.
The Rockets and the Toronto Raptors held a preseason game in Japan this month, too, marking the first game in the country since 2003. According to the Washington Post, more than 1.3 million fans in Japan now follow the NBA on social media, and the league will make every game available in Japan this season.
Undoubtedly, the sport is rapidly growing in the country.
“Today our business in Japan is in great shape, and I believe the game of basketball and the NBA are well-positioned for growth in Japan,” Scott Levy, the NBA’s Asia managing director, said, via the Washington Post.
It’s still too early to know how Hachimura will fare in the NBA.
If things go well, though, the Wizards are already in place to try and capture the market of fans that comes with the island nation.
“We can’t assume that Japanese fans are all going to be Wizards fans, but having the biggest Japanese star on the Wizards is definitely going to help,” Ikuma said, via the Washington Post.
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