Rui Hachimura’s rise to national icon didn’t happen overnight.
But he’s now a household name throughout the Japanese archipelago — and this is only the beginning. The 2019-20 NBA season is still months away.
Hachimura, a first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) of the Washington Wizards on Thursday night in New York, has already received congratulatory messages from government officials, ordinary citizens and countless celebrities. After all, he’s the first Japanese to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
And there’s a profound sense of national pride that Hachimura’s journey from Toyama to Spokane, Washington, to the NBA is something that everyone can celebrate.
The Japan Times reached out to Ambassador to the United States Shinsuke Sugiyama’s office on Friday, seeking comment.
“I am very excited about the fact that Rui Hachimura is coming here to Washington D.C., and I look forward to watching him play,” Sugiyama said in a statement. “I know that his presence here will help to grow the strong sports and culture ties between Japan and the U.S., particularly with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games coming next summer. I hope his story inspires young people in Japan to aim towards the highest levels of achievement and to compete on the world stage.”
The 21-year-old Toyama native was upbeat and smiling throughout his public appearances before the bright lights and cameras in NYC and Washington, taking it all in stride. Indeed, it was great publicity, too, for Gonzaga University, for which he starred for the past three seasons on the basketball court.
NBA Japan tweeted, “Your dream comes true. . . . Congrats @rui_8mura.”
In a short compilation of video messages recorded by Japanese celebrities that NBA Japan released last weekend, Nobuaki Kaneko, an actor and the drummer for the rock band RIZE, had this to say during the 45-second presentation: “Rui Hachimura, congratulations for being selected for the draft and set to play in the NBA. More so than congratulations, thank you!”
Said tennis star Kei Nishikori: “I loved watching you play in college. I am looking forward to watching one of your games.”
Added model Maggy: “I am so happy that Japan and the NBA can connect in this fashion. I am cheering for you from the bottom of my heart.”
It’s been a whirlwind stretch of days for Hachimura, from the run-up to the draft to being introduced to the Wizards in the nation’s capital. Last week, he became a product endorser for Nissin Foods Holdings Co.’s Cup Noodles and signed an endorsement deal with the world-renown Jordan Brand.
“It’s a very special feeling to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Hachimura said. “Jordan Brand is one of top companies in the world, and it is amazing to be part of it.”
Jordan Brand on Saturday tweeted out an announcement to its 3.7 million followers while again promoting Hachimura’s name far beyond casual recognition. “Japan’s #JUMPMAN. Welcome to the Future of Flight, @Rui_8Mura,” it read. (As of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, that announcement had been retweeted more than 6,900 times.)
There are more than 50 athletes under contract with Jordan Brand, and Boston Celtics rising star Jayson Tatum, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, joined him as its latest basketball signees.
Hachimura is the first Japanese athlete to sign a deal with Jordan Brand, according to a news release.
“In just two seasons, Jayson has established himself as one of the league’s most promising young players, with a work ethic and mindset that reflects what Jordan Brand stands for,” said Craig Williams, president of Jordan Brand, in a statement. “Rui is already making history on the court, and in the process, he’s become a hero to an entire country. What’s most impressive to me about these two young men isn’t their remarkable talent, but the strong character and maturity they carry themselves with on and off the court.”
There’s also recognition that Hachimura represents an opportunity for a segment of the Japanese sports community that didn’t exist in the past.
“He should pave the road for the next generation athletes as well as for the coming biracial Japanese population,” Don Nomura, ex-MLB pitcher Hideo Nomo’s former agent, told The Japan Times over the weekend.
In an interview with 106.7 The Fan’s “The Sports Junkies,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks insisted that Hachimura is an ideal draft pick for the club.
“Nobody ever will say anything bad about the kid,” Brooks told the Washington radio program. “I’ve been talking to people trying to get as much intel in the last couple of weeks and everybody says the same thing, ‘The kids is an amazing kid, he works hard, you’re gonna love coaching him.’
“He’s a really good basketball player that has a great upside. He’s a two-way player, he’s just gonna be a great teammate, he’s coachable,” he added. “I talked to (Gonzaga head coach Mark) Few (Thursday) morning and he just said, ‘Coach, it’s gonna be like he was heaven-sent in your locker room. He’s gonna work his tail off every single day. He’s one of those kids that will get up in the morning, early morning, six o’clock in the morning workouts. And feel like he has to do it because if he doesn’t he won’t have a good day the rest of the day.’ Those are the type of guys we need.”