The B. League is doing a commendable job marketing and promoting itself in its inaugural season.
Social media feeds and magazine reports are ever-present aspects of the publicity machine in the early stages of the 2016-17 campaign. What’s more, TV highlights and game coverage via regional and local newspapers have been a welcome presence throughout the nation.
But that’s only the start.
There’s more the league can do, and a big part of that involves who steps onto the court.
The fledgling circuit needs more bankable stars. It needs players who can instantly become staples of the nightly TV sports news shows and video highlight packages on the internet. In other words, more household names are needed to elevate the league’s appeal to a wider audience.
When the J. League launched in 1993, former Japan Basketball Association chairman Saburo Kawabuchi ran the show (also as chairman), and the upstart soccer circuit had a plan in place to showcase the immense talents of overseas players. Indeed, Kawabuchi, who was instrumental in getting the bj-league, NBL and NBDL teams to the negotiating table for the B. League to be established, still remains a power broker in the JBA.
From Brazil, prominent players Zico, Careca, Dunga, Leonardo, Jorginho and Alcindo, among others, elevated their clubs and brought dazzling skills and competitive intensity to their teams and the league as a whole.
The same concept is essential for Japan pro basketball.
Instead of limiting the opportunities for foreign players to help push the league to new heights, the opposite approach is needed. League partners SoftBank, Sony Music, Fujitsu and Casio and prospective future partners have a lot at stake with their association with the league. That said, there’s also great potential for increased investment in players who have famous names, world-class skills and notoriety from their NBA days.
The league can implement a plan for teams in the top eight markets, for instance, to each have a former NBA player with at least eight to 10 years in the premier global hoop circuit on each of those teams and split the cost 50-50 with a league fund (that all teams contribute to) and a team fund.
Similarly you can ask Joe Bryant, former Tokyo Apache coach and Kobe’s dad, about the important role ex-NBA guys had in raising the level of play and mass appeal for fans during his halycon days in Italy.
Although China is much greater in size and population, the Chinese Basketball Association’s investment in a slew of prominent NBA players, including Stephon Marbury of the Beijing Ducks, have played an integral role in making the nation a hoop-crazed destination.
Generally, casual sports fans may attend a handful of games each year. But to raise that number, what’s one way to boost their interest?
That’s where the NBA pipeline enters the picture.
Which isn’t to say that Japanese players shouldn’t be considered fan favorites nor marketable figures for teams in big markets (Tokyo and Osaka, for instance). But clearly, this much is certain: The greater diversity of players and talent in the B. League, the greater its chances of making a big buzz over the next few season with the masses.
Former NBA and Tokyo Apache head coach Bob Hill recognizes the value of former NBA players and coaches working in the B. League.
“If you take a look at many of the better leagues around the world, NBA players and coaches were always a part of their inaugural years,” Hill told Hoop Scoop on Friday. “As the country’s players and coaches grow, then you see the country’s coaches take over the head coaching jobs and in some cases the number of imports are cut back. That’s how Europe has gotten so much better from top to bottom.”
Herb Brown, a longtime NBA coach and international hoop mentor, says there are benefits and drawbacks to having NBA players on overseas teams.
“Tough decision,” Brown told Hoop Scoop. “Would depend on the player. If they just wanted another payday before retiring I don’t think it is a good idea. Young players who are on the cusp and are also good teammates and character guys Then I think they can raise the level. No more than two foreigners per team because if you have more they retard the growth of national players.
“Most NBA players going overseas are bench players here,” added the former Japan women’s national team adviser coach. “As a rule they don’t play major minutes here and many are not prepared to be a team’s first option overseas. Not always prepared for the added pressure. Some also have trouble adjusting to two practices per day, language barriers and culture as well as different kind of travel and teams eating meals together. Must be willing to adjust.
“I enjoyed coaching Americans overseas but cannot say I would ever had signed a few I was asked too. They must appreciate the opportunity to continue their careers and have to be adaptable.”
Veterans Josh Smith and Samuel Dalembert are current standouts who had long careers in the NBA before their current jobs in China, and Jordan Crawford garnered massive media coverage for his 72-point outburst for the Tianjin Gold Lions in January. Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft, was with the Jiangsu Dragons last season.
Here in Japan to push attendance figures and keep fans and media interested in the game throughout the long 60-game B. League season, having prominent stars on most/all teams is significant. This is especially true in the big markets, where teams compete with a wide array of entertainment (movies, concerts, night life as well as other sporting events) for customers.
In the B. League, current players who have had NBA regular-season experience include: first-division veterans Yuta Tabuse (Tochigi Brex), Hilton Armstrong (Chiba Jets), Earl Barron (Toyama Grouses), J.R. Sakuragi (SeaHorses Mikawa), Nick Fazekas (Kawasaki Brave Thunders), Josh Harrellson (Osaka Evessa) and Diante Garrett (Alvark Tokyo).
In the second division, Cedric Bozeman (Fukushima Firebonds), Ryan Reid (Shimane Susanoo Magic), Rodney Carney (Fighting Eagles Nagoya), Solomon Alabi (Fighting Eagles) and Larry Owens (Nishinomiya Storks) have also played in the NBA. All of them are key players for their current teams, with Fazekas leading the way as the B. League first division’s top scorer (28.8 points per game). But none of them were certifiable NBA stars.
Even so, it’s a good thing that NBA Development League players and former NBA draft picks who have enjoyed long, successful overseas careers — exhibit A: Reyshawn Terry, a former University of North Carolina forward (second-round pick in ’97) who joined the Ryukyu Golden Kings this week) — make an impact for their teams. And, of course, guys like Anthony McHenry, a Ryukyu legend with the team since ’08, are an important part of the team and league’s promotional chances.
But there’s room for more NBA alumni here, especially someone with the profile of Marbury. (Or maybe a guy like Andrew Bynum, who retired and could possibly be convinced to play again.)
It’s a smart investment the B. League should make ASAP to popularize basketball as a major sport in Japan alongside baseball and soccer.
It worked for the J. League. Just ask Kawabuchi.