Tokyo Dome a worthy option for basketball


One of the key selling points of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bid was its compact plan, which called for 85 percent of the venues to be within 8 km of the Olympic Village.

It’s obvious, though, that changes will be made to the venue plan, and that percentage will decrease. How much so is unclear at this time as financial concerns and what amounts to a too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen reality change the equation.

Which brings us to basketball. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s official bid to the IOC called for a new basketball venue to be be built in Tokyo.

Now that appears doubtful.

And there’s talk of possible basketball games (or even some rounds) behind held in Tohoku, Kansai and maybe elsewhere.

But why?

Why take a sport that has drawn well in Tokyo (see below) out of the nation’s capital city?

Here are two reasons Tokyo Dome should be considered a viable option for basketball for the 2020 Olympics:

Don’t expect the Yomiuri Giants to directly compete against the 2020 Summer Games. Odds are the Giants will be away from Tokyo Dome between July 24 and Aug. 9 that year. They’ll surely have road games at that time.

Tokyo Dome, which opened in 1988, is a facility big enough to attract large throngs of hoop fans —and even Olympic fans who may have trouble securing tickets for other events.

Reached by The Japan Times, FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, issued a statement on the matter.

“FIBA is aware that the Tokyo Organizing Committee (TOC) of the 2020 Olympics is undergoing a general venue review that may include several sports including basketball. FIBA is working closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on any eventuality in the best interest of the Olympic Games and basketball,” the statement said.

“With regards to venues, it’s fair to say that at this moment in time any and all are in play and none have been ruled out,” Simon Wilkinson, FIBA communications coordinator, wrote in an email.

But for historical perspective, let’s even take a look at an unofficial event for recognition of basketball’s big-event potential here. And remember this: Olympic rosters are filled with NBA standouts.

For a two-games series dubbed “The Super Games” in August 2007, 14 NBA players took part, dividing into Team Shaq and Team Barkley. The Aug. 12 opener attracted 35,000 fans at Tokyo Dome to watch now-Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and Dikembe Mutombo and future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, among others.

NBA talent has proven to be a drawing card for fans in Japan:

For the NBA season-opening game on Nov. 7, 1996, between Orlando and New Jersey, a crowd of nearly 40,000 filled Tokyo Dome.

On Nov. 6, 1999, Minnesota and Sacramento drew 32,623 in the NBA season opener at the same venue.

This newspaper asked Tokyo 2020 organizers if Tokyo Dome is being looked at as a venue to stage the Olympic basketball tournament.

Hidetoshi Fujisawa, Tokyo 2020 executive director of communications and engagement responded by saying, “(The) Tokyo 2020 Venue Plan has been under review since June last year. The Games legacy, the impact on the lives of Tokyo residents, and development and maintenance costs are key principles that guide the revisions.

“As for the basketball event, following the implementation of the Olympic Agenda 2020 adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last December, we are now considering the use of an existing venue.”

He added: “We are closely collaborating with the IOC, the international federations and the national federations with regards to the selection of an alternative venue. However, detailed information of the revisions is as yet unavailable.

“However, we will need the approval of the IOC Executive Board in order to finalize the changes of our venue plan.”

Now, let’s return the focus back to previous big basketball events in Japan. . .

The NBA also staged season-opening series in Kanto on Nov. 4-5, 1994, at Yokohama Arena (Trail Blazers vs. Clippers) and Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 2003, at Saitama Super Arena (SuperSonics vs. Clippers).

Terry Lyons, the NBA’s former head of international communications who spearheaded a number of initiatives to grow the game globally, said that the NBA won’t be a part of the decision-making process on where the Olympic basketball games will be played. That’s up to Tokyo 2020 organizers, he said.

“The system used at the Olympics, historically, was to play the prelim round at a smaller venue and then, when gymnastics events are completed — move to the larger venue for the medal round,” Lyons said.

“The move from one venue to another works great but it carries additional — logistical — expense. Of course, the large capacity at Tokyo Dome could make up for added expense with additional ticket revenue.”

He said the aforementioned Tokyo, Saitama and Yokohama venues were excellent for basketball.

“The ‘safe’ and easy solution is to play the entire Olympic tournament at Saitama Arena,” Lyons said. “Saitama Arena did a fabulous job in hosting the 2006 World Championship. We also did a short three-game friendly at Saitama before the 2000 Olympic Games.

“It is large but a better venue for basketball than the Dome, mainly for good seating and a closer feel. While Tokyo Dome was terrific for the NBA Japan Games, and some 34,000-(plus) fans attended, I would say it is quite a challenge to sell so many tickets for the entire tournament, so Saitama is logically the best choice.”

But, hey, this isn’t the Saitama Olympics.

Potential opportunity: A Japan Swimming Federation spokesman on Friday told The Japan Times it had “no comment” about its interest in becoming a potential replacement hosts for the 2017 worlds.

The source said, however, that as of Friday 12 p.m., the JSF had not been in contact with FINA, aquatic sports’ world governing body, about the matter, and didn’t plan to make an announcement, either. He declined to provide additional details when asked to elaborate on the issue.

Guadalajara was awarded the 2017 words in 2011. The city has spent $9.5 million to prepare for worlds, according to news reports. Now, it will be required to shell out $5 million in fines to FINA for withdrawing as host.

“After reviewing the budget, we have determined that we must inform FINA that Mexico cannot host the world championships,”Jesus Mena, the director of the Mexican National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport, said in a statement.

Fukuoka hosted the ninth FINA World Championships, held from July 16-29, 2001.

The push for gambling: As if there aren’t enough things to bet on in Nevada casinos, sports book operators and South Point Casino attorney Barry Lieberman have been lobbying for Olympic betting to be approved in the state.

The Nevada Gaming Commission has a meeting scheduled for Feb. 26 in Las Vegas, where the issue will be on the table.

“Last year, the Gaming Control Board announced an agreement with the International Olympic Committee to share information on Olympic betting to guard against illegal activity,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “The move led to Nevada considering Olympics betting.

The amount bet on sports by Nevada casino customers has increased annually in each of the five previous years,” the newspaper reported.

“In 2014, gamblers wagered $3.9 billion on sports, an increase of 7.7 percent over 2013.”

Part of the argument for permitting the legalization of Olympic gambling in the U.S. state is this: Professional athletes now compete in a broad range of Olympic events.

Betting on amateur sports is illegal in Nevada, the only U.S. state to permit legal sports wagering. (In other nations, gambling on Olympic events is legal.)

Additional details about the proposed changes have appeared in other news reports.

“Wagering would be legal in Nevada for ‘Olympic sporting or athletic events sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, subject to limitation by the chairman or the chairman’s designee in his sole and absolute discretion,’ under the language recommended to the commission, Marie Bell, the board’s executive secretary, said in an email,” according to a Bloomberg article.

“The commission . . . has the right to choose different language, such as allowing only gambling on events that don’t involve judges.”

Big Apple success: Suguru Osako placed third in the men’s 5,000-meter run at the 108th Millrose Games on Valentine’s Day in New York. The 23-year-old Osako is coached by Alberto Salazar, a three-time New York City Marathon champion.

Osako completed the race in 13 minutes, 28 seconds, a Japanese record for indoor competition. American Lopez Lomong finished first in 13:27.80.

Miracle On Ice celebration: This weekend, the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team’s gold medal at the Lake Placid Winter Games, including the shocking semifinal triumph (4-3) over the Soviet Union, is being celebrated in the same Adirondack village in upstate New York.

The festivities, including events to interact with fans, mark the first reunion of all living players from that Olympic squad, which was coached by Herb Brooks. (The hockey venue is known named in his honor: Herb Brooks Arena).

“To be able to share our story with fans has always been a pleasure, and given the 35th Anniversary is in 2015, this seems like a great time to reach as many people as possible,” said Dave Christian, a right wing on the 1980 U.S. Olympic squad, said in a statement.

“Honestly, sharing the stories never gets old, because it always ends with a smile on someone’s face.”

NBC announced its “Hockey Day in America” will have live TV coverage from Lake Placid on Sunday.

Bolt’s plans: Jamaican track legend Usain Bolt said he will retire from track in 2017, making his final competition at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London that year.

“I’ll be doing one event, the 100,” the World’s Fastest Man was quoted as saying last weekend, referring to 2017 worlds. “I’ve already discussed it with my coach. I can concentrate on that, and on retiring on a winning note.”

A world record-holder in the 100 and 200 and six-time Olympic gold medalist, Bolt has high hopes for 2015.

“If I can get myself in good shape, it should be wonderful this season,” the 28-year-old told the Daily Mail.

Farah update: British running star Mo Farah is scheduled to make his outdoor debut this season on March 22 in the Lisbon Half Marathon. In his top best half marathon to date, the reigning 5,000 — and 10,000-meter Olympic gold medalist clocked exactly 1 hour en route to placing first in the 2014 Bupa Great North Run in England. . . . The Lisbon course’s PR belongs to Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea (58:23), set in 2010.

Feedback: Send an email to: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp