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Kawachi appointed to JBA board

Possible breakthrough in rocky relationship between bj-league, Japan's basketball governing body

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Toshimitsu Kawachi, the commissioner of the bj-league since its establishment in 2004, on Saturday was appointed to the Japan Basketball Association board, which has been tasked with forming the new, tentatively named P League for the 2016-17 season.

To take a step forward, the bj-league had requested that the JBA give Kawachi or a league official a position on its board.

J. League founder Saburo Kawabuchi spearheaded the plan to finally begin discussions that include the bj-league, according to published reports.

A rocky relationship has existed between the fledgling circuit and the old-guard leadership at basketball’s governing body in this country. (Perhaps former Prime Minister Tara Aso’s retirement as head honcho of the JBA this year could signal a new era within the rigid leadership of the organization under his successor, Yasuhiko Fukatsu.)

The 60-year-old Kawachi has presided over the upstart bj-league, Japan’s first pro basketball circuit, during a period of nonstop growth. There were six bj-league teams during the inaugural 2005-06 season; 22 teams are scheduled to compete in the upcoming season, including the latest expansion club, the Fukushima Firebonds. ((The NBL, meanwhile, has 13 teams for the 2014-15 season, including the expansion Hiroshima Dragonflies.)

Facing an October deadline from FIBA to integrate the bj-league and the rival NBL (National Basketball League) the successor to the JBL, which had existed since 1967, or face suspension from basketball’s world governing body and be barred from FIBA-sanctioned competitions, the JBA released a plan in March for the launch of the P League for the 2016-17 season.

But neither Kawachi nor his staff had much of a say in the details about how the bj-league would be a part of this proposed new entity that would combine teams from the two rival leagues and also feature National Basketball Development League (previously called the JBL2) clubs. That angered bj-league leaders and caused increased tension in an already contentious situation.

In short, the bj-league has now agreed to start talking to the JBA about the FIBA-mandated change.

The bj-league was formed as a breakaway circuit of the JBL, which rattled the status quo.

“I think the bj-league wanted (to state) a few clear positions within the JBA,” one longtime Japan hoops observer told The Japan Times on Sunday. “This must be fulfilled.”

By adding Kawachi to the JBA board, the announcement signals a shift — at least on the surface — in the conversations that will take place between Japan basketball’s power brokers.

Said Kawachi: “A unified discussion has been (initiated) as the first step.”

In a statement issued by the bj-league’s public relations department, the opinions of fans, league partners and shareholders, team officials and players will be gathered as discussions take place.

Kawachi said that this is a “critical time” for the sport, noting the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics puts the spotlight on Japan basketball. He referred to the “fate of Japan basketball” as a “(big) responsibility.”

“I will continue to devote myself to the (bj-league), which welcomes its 10th season in the 2015 season … ,” Kawachi said.