Joe Bryant’s career as a basketball player and coach has taken him all over the world. Now the father of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant will add Japan to his list of far-flung destinations.
Bryant was named head coach of the Tokyo Apache in Japan’s new professional basketball league but isn’t too worried about getting a case of culture shock when the six-team circuit begins its inaugural season in November.
“Basketball has taken me all over the world,” Bryant said Sunday in Tokyo. “I’ve played in Italy, Germany, France and Israel, so when this opportunity came up it just seemed like a natural fit for me.”
Bryant, 50, played eight seasons in the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets.
His last season in the NBA was in 1983 with Houston. After that, he packed up the family and moved to Italy for the first of nine seasons abroad.
In the new Basketball Japan League, there will be no limit on foreign players but Bryant said he isn’t about to stock his team with Americans or Europeans.
“I don’t think that would fair,” said Bryant. “Of course, everybody wants to win but I think the whole purpose of this league is to help the Japanese players develop and take their game to the next level.”
Citing China’s Yao Ming and Japan’s Yuta Tabuse, Bryant said the prospects for the development of the game in Asia are bright.
“I think (Tabuse’s) success opened the door,” said Bryant. “It let Japanese players know they have a chance. And look at what’s happened in China in the past couple of years. Ten years ago nobody would have imagined that a player from China would be playing in the NBA.”
Tabuse made history on Nov. 1, when the Phoenix Suns put him on their roster. Two days later, he became the first native of Japan to see NBA court time, collecting all seven of his career points in 10 minutes of play against Atlanta.
The 175-cm (5-foot-9) Tabuse was released by the Suns in December but Bryant said Sunday he doubts we’ve seen the last of the Japanese player.
“You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time,” said Bryant. “He made the team so he obviously has the talent. Now it’s just a matter of not giving up and getting in with the right team.”
Bryant said he hopes to get Kobe over to Japan to help promote the game and offer some advice to Japanese players.
“No doubt about it,” said Bryant. “It’s a no-brainer really. We’d like to have him over in the summer to do a clinic or something like that.”
Foreign coaches are nothing new in Japan. Japan’s national soccer team is coached by Brazilian Zico, former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine manages the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League while the men’s hockey team is coached by Canadian Mark Mahon.
Bryant, who has coached in the ABA, said he looks forward to working with the Japanese players.
“I consider myself a player’s coach,” said Bryant. “I’m not one to holler and scream when things go wrong and believe it’s important to protect my players during the game.”
The six-team Basketball Japan League also includes teams in Osaka, Saitama, Niigata, Sendai and Oita.