Led by co-chairman Saburo Kawabuchi, the Japan 2024 Task Force, declared it will establish a bigger, better men’s professional basketball league with a broader vision. And so, Japanese basketball clubs were asked to burn the bridges behind them, accepting rigid qualifications to join it.
On Friday, a total of 24 clubs submitted their applications to the newly established general incorporate association now called the Japan Professional Basketball League. The JPBL will serve as the league office for the new circuit, which will tip off for the 2016-17 season.
The official league name will be announced at a later date.
“FIBA’s kept saying since six years ago that Japan had to merge the two leagues into one, but it wouldn’t make it happen,” Kawabuchi said at the opening ceremony of the JPBL on Friday in Tokyo. “But based on our strong determination that we had to be one in order to develop Japanese basketball, we’ve established the JPBL and are happy about it.”
Here’s the breakdown of the clubs that turned in their applications to the league:
*NBL clubs (seven): Tsukuba Robots, Hyogo Storks, Link Tochigi Brex, Hiroshima Dragonflies, Chiba Jets, Wakayama Trians and Levanga Hokkaido.
*bj-league clubs (14): Ryukyu Golden Kings, Shiga Lakestars, Rizing Fukuoka, Kanazawa Samuraiz, Shimane Susanoo Magic, Bambitious Nara, Shinshu Brave Warriors, Toyama Grouses, Osaka Evessa, Aomori Wat’s, Saitama Broncos, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Akita Northern Happinets and Iwate Big Bulls. (Kanazawa is an expansion team for the 2015-16 season.)
*NBDL clubs (three): Tokyo Excellence, Earthfriends Tokyo Z and Tokyo Hachioji Trains, a new club for next season.
None of the corporate teams, such as the Toyota Alvark and Hitachi Sunrockers, all of which currently play in the NBL, have submitted their applications as of Friday afternoon.
The application period will continue until the end of this month. Kawabuchi hinted that the corporate teams will join the new league.
There are 47 combined teams that are scheduled to play in the NBL, bj-league and NBDL during the 2015-16 campaign.
Lawyer and task force member Masaki Sakaida said that 18 other clubs are currently preparing to tender their applications.
The number of teams for the top division will likely be between 12 and 16 teams. The JPBL will select the teams after checking their qualifications, including financial status and whether they can secure 5,000-seat arenas.
Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake reportedly expressed discomfort that Kawabuchi and the task force demanded that all teams have 5,000-seat gymnasiums, secured with the aid of local governments. But Happinets president Yuki Mizuno said that there has been some misunderstanding between the two sides.
Mizuno said that the Akita governor was thinking that his prefecture would have to build a completely new arena and spend public funds, but that’s not really true.
“I think that there’s a lot of misunderstandings,” Mizuno insisted. “Mr. Kawabuchi said today that your arena didn’t have to be brand new, you can renovate your current facility.
“We do think that it’s possible for us to make our arena a 5,000-seat one. We are going to discuss that with our local administrations and hopefully we can clear that qualification.”
Some teams that submitted their applications may not agree with all the terms that the task force and Kawabuchi gave them.
Yasunori Shimoyama, president of the Wat’s, said that his team, a second-year franchise, would aim for assignment to the first division, but at the same he wasn’t naive. He added that even if his club could fulfill all the requirements, it could wind up in the second division.
“The teams that will play in the top division will have top players that represent Japanese basketball,” he said. “And whether we have the financial capability to sign those players, I can’t say we do.”
Kawabuchi has demanded that the clubs designate one home arena and play 80 percent of their home games there. But Shimoyama along with some other teams resisted that idea, insisting that they wanted to play games at various venues in their respective prefectures so that they’d provide greater exposure for different locales throughout those regions.
“Each local club has its own situation, and we want them to leave it to us,” Shimoyama said.
Kawabuchi suggested the possibility of him being the new league’s inaugural commissioner if no one else was fit for the role.
“I want to have some time off,” Kawabuchi, 78, said with a bitter smile. “I wanted to play some golf after this, but I have a thought that I want to contribute to basketball. If it wouldn’t work without me, although I can’t do that for a long time, I would have to think of the possibility.”
Sakaida said: “I think he will do it at least for a year.”
Meanwhile, as Japanese basketball is about to enter a new chapter, Kawabuchi said that the J. League, for which he was the inaugural chairman, is ready to provide managerial support to basketball clubs based on their past experiences in the soccer league.
“The soccer circle, including (J. League) chairman (Mitsuru) Murai, says that they want to assist Japanese basketball for its development. Hopefully, it’s going to expand to other sports organizations.”