B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa will step down from the post and former Chiba Jets Funabashi president Shinji Shimada will replace him, the men’s pro basketball circuit announced Tuesday.
Okawa’s resignation had been speculated about in media reports last week, but became official when the move was approved by the league’s board of directors Monday.
“I would like to report that the replacement of the chairman’s post was discussed by the board of directors,” Okawa, 61, said in an online news conference. “First, I will resign as the B. League chairman on June 30 and then Mr. Shinji Shimada is going to assume the role on July 1.”
Officially, Shimada still has to be approved through an emergency general meeting of the league members and another board of directors gathering in mid-June.
Okawa's term as the inaugural chairman of the league, which began play in 2016, was due to expire next summer, but he decided to pass the baton a year early.
Shimada is known for having turned the Jets into one of the most successful and popular clubs in the league since landing in Chiba as team president in 2012.
Under the 49-year-old's leadership, the Jets have led the league in home attendance in all four seasons. The Jets were the only team this past season, which was cut short due to the coronavirus, to exceed an average attendance of 5,000.
“I think he is a business manager who has a firm belief and leadership,” Okawa said of Shimada, a Niigata Prefecture native who serves as the vice president for the All-Japan Taekwondo Association and a board member for the Top League Alliance as well.
“I am certain that the B. League will make further development under Shimada’s lead.”
While the league suffered a significant financial setback because of the COVID-19 outbreak this past season, it underwent steady growth under Okawa's leadership. The circuit gained recognition as Japan's "third pro professional team sports league" behind Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League.
Based on its long-term business expansion strategy, which was revealed last summer, the B. League plans to establish higher criteria for teams looking to receive club licenses from the 2026-27 season.
For instance, the league currently demands first-division (B1) clubs have an annual revenue of at least ¥300 million to get a B1 license. That figure will be raised to ¥1.2 billion from the 2026-27 season. First-division teams will also need an average attendance of 4,000, something only a few teams have reached so far.
The screening process for club licenses will start in 2024 and Okawa insisted it would be beneficial for the league to give the new chairman more time to prepare for the league's next phase.
The selection of the candidate for the chairman's position was carried out by a specially-appointed working group led by lawyer Taku Nomiya in order to bring fairness and transparency.
The group was originally thinking of seeking candidates from outside basketball circles, such as an executive of a listed enterprise, as Okawa's replacement. The situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic caused the group to shift its focus to someone familiar with the league and sports in general.
Shimada, who briefly served as the league’s vice chairman, will resign from all his basketball-related posts, including his role as the Jets' chairman in order to fully dedicate himself to his new role.
Meanwhile, Okawa said he hadn’t intended on staying in the top position too long because it wouldn’t foster a healthy environment for a sports organization.
“I’ve been in the basketball business over the last five years. Before that, I was with the J. League (as a board member),” said Okawa, who is also likely to step away from his position as vice president of the Japan Basketball Association. “Having been in sports leagues for a long time, I think that when you are at the helm for a long time, it leads to more power concentrating on you and people around you only try to please you.”