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Chiba to quit bj-league

by Ed Odeven and Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Chiba Jets, coming off a mediocre 18-34 inaugural season, are jumping ship to the JBL’s re-branded top league for the 2013-14 campaign.

According to news reports, the Jets will be joined by the eight current JBL squads, a pair of JBL2 teams (Hyogo Storks and Daytrick Ibaraki) and a new Kumamoto-based franchise in the new JBL.

Jets spokesperson Yuki Makihira confirmed that team president Shinji Shimada, who took over in the middle of the team’s first season, made the “final decision” to defect from the bj-league on Friday.

Chiba issued a news release on Saturday morning that revealed the team’s association with the bj-league will last only two seasons. The Jets are the first bj-league squad to announce it is defecting from the fledgling circuit, but the second Kanto-area club to announce plans to vanish from Japan’s first pro basketball league. The Tokyo Apache folded last June.

Chiba’s decision contradicts what was announced several weeks ago, when the bj-league issued a news release saying that none of its teams would join the new Japan Basketball Association-backed league.

One JBL insider offered his own theory on the Jets’ mind-set for bolting from the often-mismanaged bj-league.

“It might be because of the bj-league itself,” he said. “Management is not stable compared to the JBL.”

In 2013-14, the so-called new JBL, essentially, an expanded version of the current league, will still only have nearly half as many teams as the 21-team bj-league for 2012-13.

“Since 2005, there have been two leagues in Japanese basketball,” Shimada said. “The Japan Basketball Association had aimed at integrating them in 2013 and we, the Chiba Jets, have been aware of the integrated league since we entered the bj-league. But the progress wasn’t as good as we expected it to be.

“The biggest reason for us to have made the decision was we judged that we should move to the new league so we could achieve our philosophy — make everybody surrounding the Chiba Jets happy.”

Our team has a long way to go to become a better team, but we would like our players to fight with pride, aiming to be the best in Japan on the court and the fans to root for the highest-level game in the nation. Also, as soccer’s Japan national team has received a lot of support recently, we would like to make the top league more popular and the national team players to be able to evenly play against the world, receiving support from all over the country. And hopefully we would like to produce players on the national team from the Chiba Jets.”

He added: “Even if we are to play against non-professional teams, nothing will change as far as building roots in our local society as the only professional basketball team in Chiba Prefecture and our attitude of taking every effort to entertain our fans, trying to become a better club. Also, we believe that this new league has a lot of possibilities as a business, and we think that we may grow as a company.”

In a phone interview with The Japan Times on Saturday, Jets assistant coach Geoffrey Katsuhisa responded to a question about if the Jets’ move at a time when they have yet to command the public’s attention as an established brand is a risky endeavor.

“All of this is based on the company’s and team’s vision,” Katsuhisa said, “and the vision that Shimada-san put in place is to create something that everyone involved with the Chiba Jets can benefit from — the front office, staff, players, boosters and sponsors — to create a situation that’s good for everyone to stay in line for that vision.”

Katsuhisa said he did not know if the Jets have lined up any lucrative sponsorships with big-name companies, but they plan to continue collaborating with local businesses to promote the team.

“It’s not like our style of operations is going to drastically change,” Katsuhisa said, adding the plan is to keep the team’s current name.

The bj-league learned of Chiba’s plans on Friday, and league spokesman Akihiro Ejima said the team does not face a fine for defecting.

“As far as the 2013-14 season, we’ve set a deadline for the teams that they need to report to us if they want to participate in it, which is the end of June, and Chiba came to the decision before the deadline,” he told this newspaper during a Saturday phone interview.

Ejima reacted to the Jets’ news in a diplomatic tone.

“We don’t really have anything to say,” Ejima said, “because it is Chiba’s decision to make and we always respect what everybody thinks.”

Does Ejima expect more teams to defect now?

“It is only Chiba for the time being, and that is what the new league preparation committee told us,” he said. “So at the moment, we don’t expect that any other clubs will join (the new league).”

A league insider, however, said that more teams could reveal plans to defect as early as Monday.

Meanwhile, the Jets will have a lame-duck season under new coach Shinji Tomiyama.

And as one source blurted out: “Defectors! Good luck getting any calls next season.”

The upstart bj-league began in 2005-06 with four brand new franchises — Tokyo Apache, Oita HeatDevils, Sendai 89ers and Osaka Evessa — and the Saitama Broncos and Niigata Albirex BB, two JBL defectors. The then-OSG Phoenix bolted from the JBL to the bj-league for the 2008-09 season and changed their name to the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix. The bj-league will employ a two-import rule for the first and third quarters next season (giving three imports a chance to play in the second and fourth quarters, plus overtime), while the JBL has adhered to a one-import rule for several years despite the national team’s colossal failures on the international level (zero Olympic appearances since 1976). The so-called new league is expected to have a one-import quota.

Continuous expansion has occurred since then and the league’s growing pains have been magnified during the global financial crisis.

Though the JBL’s old-guard ways have done little to elevate the sport on a national level, the bj-league’s inexperienced leadership, at both the team and league levels, has created its share of problems, too.

“Both leagues have good and bad points, so we all had difficulties to make this decision,” Hyogo Starks general manager Masaki Kitamura told The Japan Times.