JBA reveals plan for pro hoops circuit, restructuring for 2016-17 season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

In 2016, the Japan Basketball Association will launch a new professional men’s basketball league, it announced on Saturday evening.

In Tokyo, the sport’s governing body in Japan revealed the basic outline for the pro circuit, which is being tentatively called the “P league.”

The actual blueprint for the new league is not so complex, but few real details are known at the moment. This is what has been revealed: The P league will begin play for the 2016-17 season, while the JBA also tackles restructuring the domestic leagues in a pyramidal shape. Thus, the JBA plans to form “the A league” and “the B league” as lower leagues below the P league.

The A league, also a pro circuit, will serve as the P league’s developmental league (similar in organizational structure to the present NBL and NBDL setup, which replaced the JBL and JBL2 before the 2013-14 season). The non-professional B league will be formed to exist as an open league, which in theory could be joined by anyone — for example, current NBL corporate clubs that refuse to join the pro P and A leagues.

“That we are starting the pro league has been decided, but we are going to discuss on other things from now on,” said Mitsuru Maruo, the JBA vice president and NBL president.

In order to organized the just-stated tasks, the JBA has formed a professional league organizing committee and a committee for league structure reformation. And the association will also set up a professional league examination committee and plans to hold 10 once-a-month meetings, starting next month, for those who could potentially play in the new league (including NBL, NBDL and bj-league teams), plus invited administrative and outside experts.

The JBA seeks to set a timetable to determine which teams will join its new sanctioned league by June 2015.

JBA acting president Yasuhiko Fukatsu, who was just elected to become the president from this June, cited the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as one of the biggest factors in pushing the association to decide to create the new league.

“The Sochi Olympics that just wrapped up perhaps made you think this way,” Fukatsu said. “You have to be able to compete at the global level, otherwise your game won’t gain recognition and won’t have a path to the future.”

Maruo said, “It’s definitely huge that we have an Olympics here, but if our team can’t make it, basketball will be over (in Japan). We don’t want that to happen.”

The Japan men’s national team, which hasn’t qualified for the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games, has struggled internationally in recent years. It sank to ninth place in the Asia Championship last year.

In December, FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann told the JBA in Tokyo that Japan might not be granted a spot in the Tokyo Games despite the fact there’s the host nation status, e.g. automatic qualification. Baumann has stated publicly that the problems that exist between the bj-league, which began play in the fall of 2005 with six teams and currently has 21, and the NBL, are blocking the sport’s development here. (As The Japan Times reported last December: “In February 2009, then-FIBA president Bob Elphinston and Baumann visited Japan and told the JBA that they were concerned about the two-league situation that many view as a mind-numbing impasse.”)

One of the biggest concerns regarding the new pro league is whether it will really be a united circuit that combines NBL and bj-league clubs.

Originally, the JBA targeted unification for the 2013-14 season, but the majority of teams in the bj-league, Japan’s first pro basketball circuit, refused to participate in it because it wasn’t a fully professional league.

Maruo understands that there was distrust from the bj-league and its clubs against the JBA for the 2013-14 plan, because the JBA had opposed the formation of a pro league since two decades ago. And when the JBA first announced the news of the new pro league last month, the bj-league issued a statement claiming that it came out of the blue.

But this time, for the 2016-17 project, since the P league will be, well, professional, he hopes that the merger will take place.

“Hopefully, we will be able to create the right circumstances so that it will be easier for the bj-league to come in,” Maruo said.

Another question for many would be how many of the current corporate clubs in the NBL and NBDL would accept a chance to play in the pro league.

Maruo said that the JBA has received positive reactions from them, but of course it’s uncertain at this point how many of them will actually raise their hands next year.
In related news, the JBA announced that its official recognition of the bj-league, which was first formerly approved in 2010, will expire at the end of the 2015-16 season.

Staff writer Ed Odeven contributed to this report.