Although nearly a month passed since FIBA’s Oct. 31 deadline for the Japan Basketball Association to present a merger plan for the bj-league and the NBL, among other demands, basketball’s world governing body delivered the expected news.
On Wednesday, the JBA, one of FIBA’s 214 national federations, was suspended from all FIBA and FIBA Asia-related activities. The length of the ban has not been announced.
As a result, all Japan national teams are barred from playing in FIBA-sanctioned competitions, including the women’s national team, which captured its first FIBA Asia title in 43 years in 2013. This could have a profound negative impact on Olympic qualifying and preparation for it.
The FIBA executive committee met on Monday and Tuesday before finalizing its decision.
“. . . The JBA has been and currently remains unable to deliver on FIBA’s requests to: restructure the JBA to ensure it is fully functional under FIBA’s general statutes; merge the existing two leagues into one that operates under the JBA and plays the game in accordance with (FIBA’s) official basketball rules across the country; (and) present a concrete sporting plan for the national teams (men and women) beyond 2020,” FIBA said in the news release.
The NBL plays under FIBA rules; the bj-league adheres to NBA rules. FIBA has viewed that as a point of contention.
Since an official visit to Tokyo in 2009, top FIBA officials, including secretary general Patrick Baumann, have repeatedly stated that the concurrent existence of the 22-team bj-league and 13-team NBL are a violation of FIBA rules, as each national federation is required to have a clear-cut top league under its control. The bj-league operates outside of JBA control.
Though bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi and his NBL counterparts have held talks with the JBA in recent months, no merger deal has been reached. And there’s been no evidence that the rival leagues are any closer to an agreement than they were at any time over the past five-plus years.
Yasuhiko Fukatsu resigned as JBA president on Oct. 23, just a week before the FIBA deadline, stepping down at a time when an 11th-hour breakthrough appeared impossible, based on comments from key leaders in both leagues, including Kawachi, who has presided over the bj-league since its establishment for the 2005-06 season as a breakaway circuit from the old Japan Basketball League (the NBL’s predecessor).
“FIBA regrets that the situation has reached such a point of no return,” Baumann said in a statement. “However, we are convinced that after so many years of warnings and struggle, and for the good of basketball in Japan, it is absolutely time to make important changes to the structures of the JBA and of the domestic competitions in order to fully comply with FIBA’s general statutes and also to embrace the opportunity that the 2020 Olympic Games will provide to basketball in Japan. We want a successful Tokyo 2020 basketball tournament with the participation of the Japanese men’s and women’s teams.”
FIBA revealed it plans to send an appointed representative to Japan to assist in setting up a task force to usher in changes cited above.
Said Baumann: “We believe that basketball has great potential to become one of the leading sports in Japan, especially in view of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It is time to prepare for it without the ‘heavy luggage’ of past history and failed reforms, but instead with a strong vision toward the future for the benefit of all who love the game. We count on all basketball stakeholders to participate in the much-needed reform process that will be led by the task force.”
Longtime NBA coach Bob Hill, who led the bj-league’s now-defunct Tokyo Apache during the 2010-11 season, insists that FIBA made the right decision.
“This situation is extremely unfortunate as Japan as a country is outstanding in so many ways,” Hill told The Japan Times. “FIBA is the international leader for all (basketball). If Japan wants to be a part of FIBA, then they must adhere to the same rules and regulations that the rest of the world adhere to.
“There is little doubt that in time this will absolutely strengthen the sport of basketball in Japan. Having spent most of a season in Japan coaching basketball, I have to credit FIBA for recognizing a problem and doing what is necessary to correct it. FIBA is doing its job. Good for them.”
Reacting to the news, forward Jo Kurino of the NBL’s expansion Hiroshima Dragonflies weighed in on the ban on Wednesday night.
“I am sure the JBA has looked bad over the years, before this matter,” Kurino, who was first draft pick in bj-league history in 2005, told The Japan Times. “Japan has always been an economic superpower and its national teams in other sports such as volleyball, gymnastics, judo and more have been standard bearers in Asia.
“Maybe this (ban) might be necessary. It’s unfortunate but if this is what it takes, the executives have no choice but to comply. I hope all parties will work together so the JBA doesn’t get dissolved. I hope that this would lead to both leagues operating better, in order to build ‘one’ strong league and help in the development of the professional players in the country.”
He added: “This movement may be a reason for coming up with a new system when it comes to player development and promoting the game of basketball. I also hope that this would set a new trend to let younger minds join in the process and make an impact as stakeholders of the game domestically…”