He’d been a total stranger to the place for his entire life. But now Takehiko Orimo gets a huge welcome there as a messiah — and he intends to be one.
KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO
Orimo, a 37-year-old guard/forward, has recently transferred to the Rera Kamuy Hokkaido of the Japan Basketball League, from the Toyota Alvark along with 24-year-old guard Ryota Sakurai, his teammate on the Japan National Team during the FIBA World Championship.
The Japan Basketball Association-led new league tips off in the fall, transforming its structure to become more of a professional league compared to the recently disbanded Japan Basketball League (JBL) Super League.
Orimo, the star shooter, and Sakurai, the rising star, who both were put on the transfer list of the Japan Basketball League (JBL) on May 1 and signed with the Rera Kamuy late last month. They received a cordial reception from the Hokkaido citizens who assembled to see their new heroes at a news conference at a Sapporo shopping mall last week.
“Rera Kamuy is a new club and the members are new, too,” said Orimo. “But it will be ‘the place to die’ for me. The average age of the team is about 24. I’m going to sacrifice myself to help the team get better.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for him to switch teams.
Orimo has played for Toyota for his entire 14-year career in the JBL Super League and is considered the icon of the club.
“It required a lot of courage,” Orimo admitted. “I thought ending my career at Toyota would be beneficial for the team and fans. . .”
As a professional player, of course money talks are always there after every season. But for Orimo, who is said to be the highest-paid Japanese player in the JBL, it’s not the No. 1 priority any more. Rather than that, whether he can enjoy the game proved to be the most significant thing.
Toyota’s game has changed dramatically in recent years, mainly because it became more dependent on foreign standouts.
Orimo considered himself a scorer earlier in his career. Though, under the team’s recent system, the foreign players were the first options, and Orimo got the ball only when they didn’t have shots.
“I just didn’t think I would be able to play the way I pictured,” Orimo said candidly. “At Toyota, we’ve won championships and titles, and there was nothing for me to do for it any more. And if I continued to play at Toyota, I didn’t know when I should retire because I probably couldn’t exert myself to the utmost.
“I just wanted to go to a place (where) I would feel I can put all my energy.”
In Hokkaido, Orimo will try to get his game back to the way it was in the old days. And the fans in the region will luckily witness the final challenge of Japan’s best shooter this fall.
In the news conference, Orimo made this loud declaration: “I will fight for Hokkaido.”
Obviously, there will be a lot of pressure on his shoulders. But it won’t stop Orimo from making the final chapter of his hoops career colorful with his masterful shots.