Basketball

First wave of teams allocated for new hoop league

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Japan Professional Basketball League announced which divisions 20 of the teams that will make up the new men’s top circuit will play in on Thursday, following a meeting of the FIBA-led Japan 2024 Task Force.

A total of 12 clubs have been allocated to the first division, six each from the NBL and bj-league. The six NBL teams are: Aisin SeaHorses, Chiba Jets, Link Tochigi Brex, Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins, Toshiba Brave Thunders and Toyota Alvark. The six bj-league teams are: Akita Northern Happinets, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Kyoto Hannaryz, Osaka Evessa, Ryukyu Golden Kings and Sendai 89ers.

According to Saburo Kawabuchi, the Japan Basketball Association president and task force co-chair, the division could have as many as 18 teams. The league, which will tip off for the 2016-17 season, will consists of three divisions.

The JPBL gave the 25 remaining pending clubs one more month to fulfill the criteria the task force and JPBL set in the spring. The major qualifications to make the first division include having a 5,000-seat arena, earning at least ¥250 million in revenue and gaining an official document from the local basketball association and government to prove their full support.

The JPBL will reveal the destinations of those 25 pending clubs on Aug. 29.

“We’ll see how much effort they make and how much support they get in the coming month,” said Kawabuchi, one of the founders of soccer’s J. League.

The JPBL said that among the clubs still awaiting designation, 15 will be allocated in the top two divisions while the other 10 will be put in either the second or third division.

Some of the clubs that expected to be designated on this day, such as the Hitachi Sunrockers of the NBL and bj-league’s Iwate Big Bulls and Niigata Albrex BB, were not because they have yet to meet all the qualifications.

“The 15 clubs need to improve in some of the areas,” JPBL head Masaaki Okawa said. “They all had weaknesses in at least one of these qualifications, and it’s up to them how much they improve.”

Okawa said that six clubs didn’t meet the arena requirement, 13 in revenue, and seven in insolvency while a few teams have not received supporting documents from their local communities.

In the case of Hitachi — which presumably will not have any problems financially — the Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture-based team has not secured a 5,000-seat gym.

Okawa said that Iwate and Niigata don’t have enough revenue at this point and would need to prove that they can change that by making further efforts, such as gaining more sponsorship.

Meanwhile, despite the recent accounting scandal involving their parent company, Toshiba Corp., the Brave Thunders made it to the top tier.

“When they announced the qualifications, we thought that it would be tough for us,” Brave Thunders general manager Chikahiro Hayashi said after the news conference. “But we’ve overcome step by step and have gotten to this point.

“Our games have been generally meant for our (Toshiba) employees, but we will have to lay down roots in the local community to bring more fans in for our games from now on. That’ll be the priority.”

Happinets president Yuki Mizuno said that he was relieved his team made the top division, but couldn’t afford to sit back.

“We don’t think it’s good enough to just have a 5,000-seat arena at all,” said Mizuno, whose club finished as runnerup in the last two bj-league seasons. “We’ll need to fill that and would like to do our best to attract more fans for our games in the bj-league’s final year (in the 2015-16 season).”

Shinji Shimada, the president of the Jets, who defected from the bj-league to the NBL two years ago, insisted that he was happy that his team was finally set to play in a unified league.

“This is a big plus (for Japan’s basketball),” Shimada said. “We’ve been waiting for this moment.”

The teams that were allocated to the second division are: the bj-league’s Aomori Wat’s, Bambitious Nara, Fukushima Firebonds and Takamatsu Five Arrows and the NBDL’s Toyota Tsusho Fighting Eagles.

The teams that were put in the third division are a trio of NBDL squads: Otsuka Corporation Alphas, Toyoda Gosei Scorpions and Aisin AW Areions.