Change can be quite difficult, and there’s often resistance to it.
Reforming the Japan Basketball Association fits that description, too.
And ushering in a new, unified era for men’s professional basketball here does not go hand in hand with all key leaders nodding their heads in unison at what the Japan 2024 Task Force has issued as a blueprint moving forward.
There have been some voices of dissent about aspects of the plan. Take the requirement for teams in the top-league’s first division to have a plan to use a 5,000-seat home arena for 80 percent of its games in the new league, which is scheduled to launch for the 2016-17 season. (For decades, Japan basketball teams have traveled near and far for “home” games in numerous gyms; this season, for instance, the bj-league’s Gunma Crane Thunders are playing their 26 home games at 10 venues in Gunma Prefecture.)
Yasunori Shiomoyama, president of the bj-league’s Aomori Wat’s, revealed at Wednesday’s task force meeting that included NBL, bj-league and NBDL team and league officials, why he doesn’t support the plan for his club. The Levanga Hokkaido of the NBL also disagrees with the home venue plan due to its spread-out fan base across the prefecture.
“I can’t fully agree with the arena (qualification),” Shimoyama said. “We don’t have a place that fits the qualification. And in our prefecture, it takes (time for you to move from one place to another.
It doesn’t work quite as well as in Tokyo, where you have trains and subways. We think that we need to go around in the prefecture, considering our transportation systems and access. So we want the qualification to have 80 percent of the home games to be excluded from the requirements.”
Task force co-chair Saburo Kawabuchi responded to Shimoyama’s concerns.
“That’s something all of you should discuss,” Kawabuchi told Japan’s basketball leaders, who have come under increased scrutiny in recent months due to basketball world governing body FIBA’s suspension of the JBA due to its failure to meet an Oct. 31 deadline to submit a plan to merge Japan’s men’s pro leagues into a single entity.
“But I think that maybe it was how it worked in the past, but we are talking about how we want it to be from now on, aren’t we? We were like this and we were like that — we need to jump out of it. That’s why the task force is here. I know that we can’t do it with the status quo, but you have to overcome the obstacles.
“Aomori, don’t get me wrong, doesn’t have other amusements (and pro teams), so that’s actually the best environment (for basketball).”
Kawabuchi issued a challenge to all teams to see the big picture.
“Bringing fans to the arena for 30 games, you have to have a stronger mind-set. That’s just not the case for Aomori,” he went on. “I’ve gone around many places and I hear many of the teams are distributing tickets for free. That’s not professional. You have to have the mind-set of being professional. I know it’s not easy, but we want you to overcome it. That’s the only way I can put it.”
The 78-year-old Kawabuchi, who served as the founding chairman of the J. League, is pushing for progress, not clinging to old ways of basketball management in Japan. He recognizes it’s a difficult path that lies ahead.
“We haven’t had dreams up until now,” he said, surveying Japan’s disorganized basketball landscape, which includes 13 NBL squads, 22 bj-league teams (and two more expansion squads set to join for the 2015-16 season) and nine NBDL clubs. “We hope to give some dreams to the children.”
Kawabuchi admitted there have been “a lot of disagreements” about having 5,000-seat arenas as requirement for the new top league. But, he added, progress has been made. He said, “We now have 10 (prefectural) administrations that are working on (having 5,000-seat arenas).”
Ingo Weiss, FIBA treasurer and co-chair of the task force, said the task force wants to support teams as they make changes.
“What I want you all to understand is, we just want to move Japanese basketball forward, instead of looking back at the past,” Weiss said.
“What we are doing is how we want it to be in 2020 and 2024. If you have any problems in local towns, let me know, I’ll be there. I am ready to talk with your governors.”
The task force, formed in January, has worked to overhaul Japan men’s basketball with a target to have that plan in place before the FIBA Central Board is scheduled to meet from June 18-20. If the plan is OK’d by FIBA, global basketball’s supreme authority could lift its ban on the JBA, allowing Japan’s national teams to once again participate in international competitions.
Weiss said he believes the task force has pushed Japanese basketball “back on the right track.”
Here are some of the proposed particulars of the Japan 2024 Task Force’s plan for the new men’s pro league, which were released, or presented with more details, on Wednesday:
* A 12- to 16-team top division and a 16- to 24-team second division along with a third-tier development league.
* Revenue sharing.
* A 60-game schedule for the first and second divisions.
* Promotion and relegation
* A minimum player salary of ¥3 million per season.
*Financial profitability — a team shouldn’t be in the red. If it is, it will be asked to submit a document to prove it can improve its finances within two years.
* Revenue targets: ¥250 million per season for a top-division club and ¥100 million for a second-division team.
* Establishment of under-15 and U-18 youth teams. (Asked if high school basketball instead of pro clubs have the power for youth hoops, Kawabuchi responded by saying, “But you have to give the players better circumstances with better coaches. That’s definitely how you grow players. I don’t think that the whole JBA has made enough effort on it. And from this point on, I want them to change that. Otherwise, Japanese basketball will never have the ability to compete with the world.”)
*In addition to the aforementioned 5,000-seat arena for top-divisions, each club should have a practice facility; for second-division teams, a 3,000-seat primary venue is the proposed target.
* Advertising giant Dentsu Inc. has been asked to be in charge of marketing and seek out sponsors for the new league.
The new league doesn’t yet have a name, and some teams are opposed to being placed in the second division, according to Kawabuchi.
So what names have been proposed?
“I was originally thinking, maybe the Premier League or something (for the first division) and then the Challenge League (for the second division),” said Kawabuchi. “But someone suggested me that it wasn’t a good idea, because it would not create a sense of unity. If you call it division one and division two, that would bring more sense of unity. But I’m not really sticking to anything. But what he said was convincing.”
For Kawabuchi, a repeated message on Wednesday was this: A single primary gym is a must moving forward.
“Home is your house,” he said. “To have one particular home arena, you get more support and they will eventually think that’s your home.
“Without that though, you can’t have a real home.
“Using three, four arenas, you don’t call it your home arena,” he added. “I wonder if they understand the value of having a home arena.
Having home arenas everywhere, that’s nonsense.”
Kawabuchi and NBL team officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday, while there are no announced plans for upcoming talks between the task force co-chair and bj-league team representatives.
The task force is scheduled to meet again on April 28, and team assignments for the new league’s inaugural season are expected to be announced.
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