Basketball | HOOP SCOOP

New Stephen Curry documentary takes look at Japan's grassroots hoops

by Ed Odeven

Do yourself a favor. Set aside 30 minutes to watch a short documentary. Actually, that’s enough time to watch it twice. Do it twice. You’ll come away with an even greater appreciation for the crisp cinematography, lively action and compelling insights more by absorbing the information twice.

The new bilingual documentary, “The Rising: Hoop Origins with Stephen Curry,” which made its global debut last week on his YouTube channel, is a celebration of grassroots basketball in Tokyo.

It’s nice to see the superstar in his element, talking about the game and learning about influential folks behind the scenes who’ve also helped shape Japan’s basketball culture.

It’s a positive diversion from the following, too: Curry broke his left hand in this season’s fourth game and remains sidelined, and the Golden State Warriors (8-24 through Wednesday) are experiencing the opposite end of the performance spectrum after their glorious run of five straight NBA Finals in the Steve Kerr era.

Clearly, the project was released at the perfect time — Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura’s rookie season. After all, interest in the NBA in Japan is at its highest point since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles in the 1990s.

In the past, this newspaper chronicled Curry’s trips to Japan, providing details on basketball clinics and promotional tours for Under Armour. This documentary, which was produced by Rakuten, gives viewers an inside look at Curry’s June visit to Tokyo during his Underrated Tour stop.

Tokyo Samurai Basketball Club director/head coach Kris Thiesen, who is introduced early in the documentary, shared one of his top goals as a mentor.

“I want to take my passion and kind of give it to them because I think they are passionate about it, too,” Thiesen said.

Video footage of streetball games from the early 2000s appears in the film, too, with Ballaholic brand founders Keita Suzuki and Yoshikazu Tanamachi, who also organized the streetball league, SOMECITY HQ, reminiscing and talking about their efforts to grow the sport.

Throughout the 15-minute documentary, Curry’s positive interactions with those involved in Japanese basketball are shown.

In addition, snippets of biographical information and how important basketball is in the daily lives of teenage players Noa Gustafson, Junn Broons and Reina Fukuo are included. And we learn of the self-confidence the sport has given them.

“If I didn’t have basketball, I would just be a tall person,” Fukuo said.

Freestyle basketball player Jinji Takeuchi combines dribbles, spins and dances choreographed to music while displaying exceptional body control.

Another form of artistic expression is featured, too. Illustrator Dai Tamura, revealed his love of sketching basketball players began with Jordan.

Tamura met Curry at one of Tokyo’s outdoor courts, where the artist gave the player one of his richly detailed illustrations of Curry.

Their introductory greetings were genuine and funny.

“You gave me big muscles,” Curry said after glancing at the illustration.

“To me, you’re a super hero,” Tamura said through a translator.

As the film shifts to footage of the Underrated Tour, including skill-building exercises, Curry talked about the importance of this international project.

To him, it’s a natural opportunity to offer encouragement to school-age players who aren’t on a high-speed path to stardom — that is, someone like him.

Or as Curry put it: “The late bloomer and the overlooked kid and guys that really have to work for any type of notoriety they can get, and finding a way to reach those kids to find the next me.”

He went on: “There’s just a different attitude when you haven’t been told you’re the best at something at that age just in general.”

Curry elaborated on that point in a press release.

“The idea behind the Underrated Tour is simple: create a basketball camp for high school players who are looking for the chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be secret strengths — a camp for kids who love to hoop but the traditional camps are telling them they’re not enough,” Curry, who attended Davidson College, which isn’t a high-profile NCAA Division I school, said. “That was my story . . . I was repeatedly labeled ‘undersized,’ and ‘not a finisher,’ all these limitations spoken over me before I even came into my own.”

During some of the drills shown in the film, Curry is a vocal cheerleader and coach, sometimes at the same time. He also hands out high-fives to players repeatedly.

Upon seeing one player’s hesitation to take an outside jumper, Curry offered this advice: “Shoot it. Shoot it. You’re open!”

Then the high school student’s jumper sailed through the net, bringing cheerful feedback from Curry.

Grassroots efforts to improve the skills of the youth are quite important, according to Curry, who commended Japan’s coaches for their efforts.

“We’re trying to grow the game of basketball around the world, and you know, these camps are hopefully an opportunity for you to learn,” he told the captivated audience. “Take something back home with you, to build your self-confidence, build your skill set and create a vision of where to want to go in the game of basketball, because it can take you to a lot of great places. . .”

Stephen Curry’s message of positivity blends well with the collective efforts of motivated folks who occupy different roles within Japan’s basketball culture. They all share a common purpose and passion, and those elements are poignantly captured in this short film.