As the first J. League chairman, Saburo Kawabuchi demonstrated strong leadership and helped its successful launch as a professional league more than two decades ago.

Sometimes, his reign was described as a dictatorship.

But now, though, Japanese basketball probably needs a powerful figure like him to fix this now-or-never situation after the Japan Basketball Association was suspended by FIBA, the sport’s global governing body, last fall.

On Thursday, as one of the first steps of the Japan 2024 Task Force, which was established last month, the 13-team NBL and 22-team bj-league held meetings with all of their clubs’ representatives and Kawabuchi, co-chairman of the task force, in Tokyo.

The meetings were held separately by the leagues in the same building in Minato Ward. But Kawabuchi attended both sessions and revealed his own ideas for a new, unified professional league.

Although he promised that he was only offering his own personal ideas, Kawabuchi seemingly wanted to see those ideas come as close as possible to forming a genuine, successful circuit.

The legitimate criteria will be discussed at a task force meeting on March 4 and the clubs will be notified right after. He added that he wanted to decide the structure and team assignments for the new league by the end of May.

Kawabuchi said at a January news conference that he wanted to have the ban lifted by early June so the Japan national teams could attempt to qualify for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“This is the one last chance for you all, and there won’t be another chance like this,” Kawabuchi told club executives during the two meetings. “You’ve been given the opportunities. Opportunities to discuss with local administrations, opportunities to discuss with local towns. You’ve got to capitalize on it.

“There shouldn’t be any compromising of these initiatives, because I don’t think it will help Japanese basketball have success. It can’t be a league that’s just unified.”

Kawabuchi said that the new league should have around 16 teams for the first division and around 20 teams for the second tier, while he also said that there would be regional leagues.

“There are 24 teams in the bj-league and 13 in the NBL,” Kawabuchi said, referring to the expected makeup of the rival circuits next season, including the addition of two bj-league expansion teams. “So we have 37 teams overall, and there’s no way we are going to play with all of them together. Japan’s basketball will not develop that way.”

(Later in the NBL meeting, a NBDL club president politely told Kawabuchi to not forget about the NBL’s nine-team second tier too.)

Kawabuchi explained that the task force would examine all teams’ current financial situation and also their mid- and long-term visions as criteria for top tier, second tier and so on.

He added that the leagues would have to compete as they currently are, being expected to have some interleague games or a championship series between the winners of the two leagues in the 2015-16 season during the the transitional phase, and the new league would officially tip off in the 2016-17 campaign.

For the new league, Kawabuchi added that he wanted to eliminate the salary cap, which both leagues currently have, and establish a minimum salary for the players (Kawabuchi thinks pro basketball players should earn more than the majority of the players do now).

Kawabuchi hinted that a draft system should also be introduced to bring parity to the new league.

But what Kawabuchi repeatedly emphasized — as he did at a news conference last month — was to have one real home arena per team, because many clubs in both leagues are renting arenas and using multiple gyms in the same prefecture. He admitted he dislikes this current format, saying that fans don’t have a chance to experience the feeling of a true home venue.

“I think that’s everything,” he said. “Currently, as I looked into it, and figured the teams are using at least three different places as their home venues. That’s not going to make their own fans feel like they really have a home.”

Meanwhile, Kawabuchi also spoke bluntly that the sport should vie for more media exposure. He brought photo copies of Thursday’s 12 major Japanese daily newspapers, pointing out that none of them had carried a story on basketball (though the JBA held a board meeting on the previous day).

“You have to feel ashamed of this,” Kawabuchi told the club representatives. “The only things you’ll see in those papers are the results, and what kind of a value is a professional basketball league providing like that? I don’t think you all have had enough promotions.

“I tell you why the J. League had success (when it started). I’d say the media made it possible. They wrote about the J. League every single day. If you convert it to advertisement fees, it’s a few billion yen.”

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