Legendary basketball star Takehiko Orimo officially brought the curtain down on his professional career after 27 years during an online news conference on Sunday.
Orimo, who will turn 50 on May 14, entered this season having already said he would hang up his jersey after the 2019-20 B. League campaign.
Unfortunately, the Levanga Hokkaido shooting guard was not given a chance to successfully walk off into the sunset, as the season was abruptly called off in March, with one-third of the campaign remaining, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, Orimo’s final game came against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders on March 15 in an empty Todoroki Arena, with spectators banned because of the virus.
While Orimo regretted not being able to express his gratitude to the fans directly, he didn’t despair over the way his career was forced to end.
“I’ve been able to be where I am now because of so many different people who supported me during these 27 years, and that was a blessing,” Orimo said. “There are so many things I feel I could’ve done better, but overall I think I had a good basketball career.”
The Saitama Prefecture native began his career in 1993-94 for the Toyota Motors Pacers, who later became the Toyota Motors Alvark and are currently the Alvark Tokyo. He led Toyota, which competed in the Japan Basketball League and National Basketball League, to league titles in 2001-02, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Orimo moved to Rera Kamuy Hokkaido, a predecessor of the Levanga, for the franchise’s inaugural season in 2007-08. His transfer from such the powerhouse and big company-backed Alvark to a newly-established pro club like Rera Kamuy was perceived as a surprise.
His experience in Hokkaido was a rocky one early on. The club struggled financially and was eventually shut down. Orimo then established a new management company, and took on the dual role of owner/player and established the Levanga for the 2011-12 season.
“When I came to Hokkaido, that was the year I was going to turn 37 and I could’ve retired at the time,” said Orimo, who was the 2000-01 JBL MVP. “But I played my first game in Hokkaido and so many fans came. They showed me how exciting it was to play in front of that big of a crowd. The scene still imprinted in my eyes.”
During his exceptionally long career, Orimo played in 799 games and averaged 12.8 points. At 190-cm, he excelled at using screens to give himself space for shots, and knocked down 1,091 3-pointers in 2,828 attempts, a percentage of 38.6.
Orimo competed for the Japan men’s national team at the 1998 and 2006 FIBA World Championship, which is now called the World Cup. The Nihon University alum also helped Japan win bronze at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima.
Since his arrival in Sapporo, Orimo’s Hokkaido team has posted three winning seasons. This past year, the Levanga finished last in the East Conference with a 13-27 record.
Hokkaido has been in the top five in average home attendance among the 18 top-division teams over the past few seasons, drawing around 3,500 fans per game.
Orimo has also been serving as the club’s president and will remain in that role.