Basketball / BJ-League

Washington in limbo week after exoneration

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

It’s been a week since Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington was cleared of all drug charges by Osaka Prefectural Police after 18 days in custody. Yet there still has been no formal announcement by either the Western Conference team or the bj-league about Washington’s status.

A league insider told The Japan Times he believes a decision will be made on Monday. The league’s board of directors reportedly discussed Washington’s status during a meeting on Thursday evening, but no real details have emerged.

Furthermore, the league is not expected to sanction Washington in any fashion. It appears the decision on the star’s return rests solely with the Evessa.

Despite repeated inquiries to Evessa spokesman Makoto Yamada and other team officials this week, no timetable for an announcement was given. Yamada repeatedly said he had no information on the matter.

In fact, after Wednesday’s practice one Evessa player said “he had no idea” if and when Washington, the two-time reigning All-Star MVP, would play again.

So what’s the holdup?

Why hasn’t Washington been officially reinstated?

Those familiar with the league’s stance on the issue believe Washington’s conditioning could be the cause of the delay. And with the team already having secured a playoff spot, there would be no rush for him to return.

But there appears to be infighting about Washington’s future with the three-time champions.

A source claims team management reportedly wants to keep the former Indiana University forward, while parent company Human Holdings Co., Ltd.’s chief executive immediately preferred to part ways with the veteran power forward after his arrest due to the perception of a tarnished team image.

(Washington’s wife, Dana, was arrested in late February and remains in Osaka police custody on drug-related charges after a package with her name on it, containing nearly 1 kg of marijuana, was sent from the United States to the family’s Osaka home last November.)

Several longtime league contacts told The Japan Times they are shocked by the way the team and the league have handled the aftermath of Washington’s exoneration. To a man, letting an entire week pass without informing the public about if/when Washington can play —he has already stated he wants to return to the court — is a big public relations blunder.

“Lynn had been cleared of all charges,” an Okinawa-based source said, “so to me, he belongs back on the court with this team. His wife is still in some trouble but that should not be held against him. He plays for the Evessa, she does not.

“Revoke her sponsorship in Japan and leave the decision up to Lynn if he still wants to play. I get the feeling that the league is going to rule against Lynn because of all the bad press that has came out of this.

“When his wife was arrested in February, the league did nothing, said nothing; he gets arrested and the league runs drug tests — something that they should have been doing since day one — and vowed to get this so-called problem under control.

“They handled this situation badly from the beginning and if they rule against Lynn, it will just be another part of the situation they mismanaged. They kind of hung Lynn out to dry when he was arrested and did not seem to want to give him any moral support.”

The Evessa (30-14) play host to the Niigata Albirex BB (24-20) this weekend.

Niigata has prepared for the series without knowing if it will face Washington, who has been a 20-point, 10-rebound force since the league was established in 2005.

“It’s tough to make a game plan, for sure,” said one Albirex official, who requested anonymity. “But in this case, the league has to get it right. They have to make sure they make the right decision, whatever it is.

“I’m glad Lynn was cleared and I hope his wife is cleared, too. The big picture is the league now. They have to get it right, and that is why they are taking their time.”

League accolades: Kyoto guard Lee Cummard, who had 18- and 16-point efforts last weekend against the Ryukyu Golden Kings, is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week. The BYU product helped the Hannaryz sweep the Western Conference-leading Golden Kings.

The March MVP honor goes to Oita HeatDevils forward T.J. Cummings.

Cummings averaged 26.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in eight games as Oita went 6-2.