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Players react after NBL takes unilateral action

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

On Sept. 16, after a pair of National Basketball League preseason games wrapped up, four players came into the press room at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 in suits to announce something the nation’s sport had never seen before.

They were there to inform the media members that they had formed a players association.

Yusuke Okada, a guard for the Toyota Motors Alvark Tokyo, proposed the idea and is the president of the group, which is officially called the Japan Basketball Players Association.

The JBPA will start with Japanese players in the NBL, which enters its inaugural season as it reconfigures from its predecessor, the Japan Basketball League. The 2013-14 campaign of the new circuit was scheduled to tip off Saturday.

Okada explained how the new group came about. He said that in the transition from the JBL to the NBL, there were some significant changes, such as the game rules, number of the games (54 regular-season contests, which is up by 12 from the JBL last season), and a salary cap, but those were determined without the presence of the players.

“I asked the league officials afterward how they could do that,” Okada said. “But all they said was that they had agreed on those terms with the teams. Nothing more.”

Okada informed those in his own social network services and blogs to gain attention for his proposition. Other players read his thoughts and Okada made up his mind to create an organization to represent the players.

Okada said that majority of the Japanese players in the NBL agreed to join the JBPA and would do so beginning this season. He added, however, that the union would open its door to players of other entities, including the bj-league, NBDL (NBL’s lower division), import players and even Japanese players playing abroad later, perhaps after this upcoming season.

Okada emphasized that the players didn’t establish the JBPA in order to negotiate work circumstances including their salaries, therefore it’s not a labor union. It is registered as a general incorporated association, which legally has no rights to argue on labor disputes.

“We thought we needed to change our ways of thinking. We players have to be involved in making Japan’s basketball scene better,” Okada said. “We just want to make the game more major — Our goal perhaps can be summed up in this one sentence.”

Shogo Asayama (Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins Nagoya), Shinsuke Kashiwagi (Aisin SeaHorses Mikawa), Hiroyuki Kinoshita (Wakayama Trians), Ryota Sakurai (Levanga Hokkaido), Joji Takeuchi (Hitachi Sunrockers Tokyo) and Ken Takeda (Link Tochigi Brex) will serve as vice presidents.

The 29-year-old Okada, who is a certified public accountant, added that as he, along with other executive members, formed the organization, they consulted other players unions and associations of other sports both inside and outside Japan, such as Nippon Professional Baseball, the J. League, rugby, and even pro motorboat and bicycle races, for reference.

Okada said that more time is needed before determining exactly what sort of activities the organization would be involved in, but that an all-player fan fest, assisting players in second careers and bringing foreign coaches to Japan in the offseason would be possible ideas.

Takeda, a Brex veteran, insisted that while Japan’s basketball has failed to gain genuine popularity and the national teams have continued to struggle, the JBPA could provide some positive influence on the sport.

“We want to make the game more popular,” Takeda said. “While we’re starting the NBL and the Olympics are coming to Tokyo (in 2020), we believe that there are things we players could do to help. This should be the big first step.”

Antonio Lang, the head coach of Mitsubishi, said that he did not have specific details about the JBPA, but it will be healthy for the players to have a say in the league.

“The league should be player-based, they should have a voice in the league and its future,” said Lang, former player of Duke University and some NBA clubs. “I think in all professional leagues, there is a player group that has a voice.”

According to Okada, there was a previous move by players in the bj-league to form their own association, but it did not materialize.

He also mentioned that the players from the Hyogo Storks, a member of the NBL, also previously tried to create a players association before the talks regarding the JPBA began.