The B. League was forced to abandon the annual All-Star Game due to the COVID-19 pandemic but did not completely give up offering entertainment for its fans.
On Saturday, the men's professional circuit held its dunk and 3-point contests as well as its skills challenge remotely. Participating players filmed their performances at their team's facilities and the winners were chosen through voting on social media.
Those contests were originally supposed to take place on Friday night at Adastria Mito Arena, the venue for this year’s Winter Classic festivities. The event was called off on Jan. 9 upon the request from the Ibaraki Prefecture host city because of an increasing number of novel coronavirus infections.
In the dunk contest, Chiba Jets Funabashi guard Koh Flippin received 42% of the votes, beating former champs Ira Brown of the Osaka Evessa and Sebastian Saiz of the Jets.
The 187-cm Flippin displayed his athleticism with a leg-through one-handed windmill dunk before finishing his turn by leaping over his teammate for a two-handed slam.
“Playing in front of fans is a lot more fun because they give me the energy to jump higher and do different types of dunks,” Flippin said when asked if he prefered filming his performance over dunking before a crowd.
In the skills challenge, in which participants tested their dribbling, passing and shooting techniques, Flippin's teammate Yuki Togashi clocked the fastest time of 21.85 seconds.
"The All-Star Game has been canceled due to the coronavirus, but hopefully everybody enjoyed the contests," said star point guard Togashi, who also won the 2019 skills challenge in Toyama. "And I hope I can repeat the title in front of fans next year."
Meanwhile, premier shooter Kosuke Kanamaru extended his reign in the 3-point shooting contest, capturing the title for the third consecutive year. The 31-year-old small forward for the SeaHorse Mikawa scored 17 points to beat his six rivals. Each player shot four balls each from five spots for a maximum 20 points. Unlike past 3-point contests, there were no stripe balls for a two-point bonus.
“The rule was a little different (than in the usual All-Star contest) and I was worried how it’d go, but it went well,” said Kanamaru, who leads the league in 3-pointers with 81 this season. “It was the first time for us to do something like this, but I was able to relax because I did it at our regular practice gym.”
Although no spectators were allowed in, the league still decorated Adastria, installing boards and putting All-Star Game logos on the floor. The main game had been slated for Saturday night.
Ibaraki Robots guards Kohei Fukuzawa and Atsunobu Hirao, who joined the live broadcast as guests, were the only players at the arena. While the other contest participants filmed their performances, Hirao and Fukuzawa competed in the skills challenge and 3-point contest, respectively, during the broadcast.
B. League Chairman Shinji Shimada told an online media briefing that he was satisfied with the league's ability to host the event in a virtual format with just days of preparation following the decision to cancel in-person All-Star events.
“It’s been a year since the coronavirus began spreading and we are in another state of emergency,” Shimada said. “And while the entertainment business including sports are in tough situations, we wanted to do something so that fans would be able to sit back and have some fun.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.