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Constant change, lack of plan hurt bj-league’s viability

by Ed Odeven

Entering its ninth season, which tips off in October, the bj-league has never been in worse shape.

It has grown too big, too quickly and its overall mismanagement — especially at the league office, but also with many teams — has reached epic proportions.

Fans have many options for where they choose to spend money — disposable income — on entertainment. And fans deserve some semblance of order and stability.

Unfortunately, nothing resembling order or stability exists in commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi’s league.

Consider the following facts:

*The Tokyo Apache, one of the six original teams, folded in 2011. And this double whammy two years later: The Chiba Jets bolted to the National Basketball League (the JBL’s successor) after just two seasons, and the Miyazaki Shining Suns folded after three seasons. And no one would be stunned if a few more teams fold or defect within the next year; that precedent has been set.

*BS Fuji and Gaora dropped regular nationwide coverage of regular-season games prior to the 2012-13 campaign. Therefore, the 21-team league has no national TV contract. Instead, inadequate webcasts — without professional announcing crews — are available (for purchase) for all league games on BJTV.

*The defending champion Yokohama B-Corsairs, cash-strapped and entering a new era of uncertainty about their long-time survival odds, will field a squad without any of their title-winning import players, including two-thirds of its Big Three in Draelon Burns and Thomas Kennedy, from last season.

Furthermore, coach Reggie Geary left the team to guide Chiba. Champion teams usually have a major uptick in sponsorship interest and fan support — people jump on the bandwagon in droves — but just the opposite is happening in Kanagawa Prefecture. The team is barely hanging on by a thread, giving new coach Michael Katsuhisa a seemingly impossible job to do.

*The coaching carousel has reshaped the league’s coaching ranks again. Matt Garrison, the 2012-13 Coach of the Year, led the Niigata Albirex BB to the Final Four, where it lost to Yokohama.

His reward?

Getting axed.

Garrison has resurfaced in Billings, Montana, where he works at a car dealership.

*Koto Toyama, a bright, up-and-coming coach, guided the Ryukyu Golden Kings to a league-record 42-10 record in his first season at the helm. Then he was shown the door.

His mortal sin?

The Golden Kings lost to the Kyoto Hannaryz in the second round of the playoffs in Okinawa.

Toyama has already been handed the reins of his third bj-league team — and he’s still only 30 — and gets back to work on the expansion Bambitious Nara bench.

*The Rizing Fukuoka parted ways with bench boss Atsushi Kanazawa after one-plus seasons at the helm. All he did was take the squad to its first-ever championship game, where it was outplayed by the B-Corsairs in May.

He’s now NBDL club TGI D-Rise’s new sideline supervisor.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Since the playoffs ended, we’ve learned five of six Western Conference playoff-qualifying teams from last season will have new coaches for the upcoming seasons. Gone are Shimane’s Zeljko Pavlicevic (now at Wakayama, an NBL club), Toyama, Kanazawa, and Shiga’s Al Westover (he returned to Australia). In fact, of the West’s six returning playoff squads, only Kyoto’s Honoo Hamaguchi will be with the same team for consecutive opening days.

The league’s revolving door extends to players, public relations personnel and team staff, too. So instead of people growing into their jobs, getting better at their jobs and, eventually, thriving at their jobs, a never-ending adjustment period is a major part of what teams and the league office must cope with.

This makes it virtually impossible for the media to develop a rapport with the people they report on. After all, there’s a constant barrage of new faces wherever one looks. And this is one of the biggest crises that Kawachi and his minions have failed to address.

Year after year, they simply add teams, roll out the ball and hope/assume people will show up for games. There’s been no identifiable strategy, no visible evidence, that the league has made an earnest attempt to market its product throughout the nation.

Which is why after eight seasons a microscopic percentage of individuals residing in Japan could even name five players in the bj-league. The honest truth: The league office is not publicizing this information in a meaningful way, nor is it pushing major mass media companies to do so.

Instead, what’s actually happening amounts to a collective shrug of the shoulders by those in positions of power within the bj-league.

The collective apathy and lack of foresight to push the envelope — to be a true renegade league like the USFL, ABA or World Hockey Association — have spelled trouble for the bj-league since Day One, but especially since the world economic downturn became a major concern in 2008.

Since then, the bj-league’s shortcomings have grown bigger under the spotlight, and with no signs that things will improve.

Despite its growth into a major-size league, the bj-league is failing miserably to resonate with the masses. This is an immense problem.

Make no mistake, the bj-league is at the crossroads. Its ninth season could be the beginning of the end for a league with an opportunity to grow into a major player on the Japan sports scene if things don’t improve dramatically over the next couple seasons. But without a TV deal, lucrative sponsorships are unlikely, and that’s a crisis in itself.

(Despite repeated attempts to get a straight answer from the bj-league’s public relations staff about its TV strategy moving forward, no answers were given. Those attempts were ignored.)

So just remember this: The ABA ceased operations after nine seasons, when four teams (Nuggets, Pacers, Spurs and Nets) were absorbed by the NBA in 1976.

Of course, the Japan Basketball Association has no interest in a real merger between the NBL and bj-league. Between the two leagues there are currently 33 teams; that’s way too many for a so-called top league. And since breaking away from the JBL to form the bj-league, Kawachi, the Niigata Albirex BB and Saitama Broncos are viewed as the unforgivable rebels.

The bj-league is stuck on its own misguided path. There’s zero real affiliation and cooperation with the JBA.

Anything said or done is merely lip service.