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Kenichi Sako, one of the most iconic figures in Japan’s basketball history, has been elected to the FIBA Hall of Fame’s 2020 class, the sport’s global governing body announced on Tuesday.

Sako is among the group of 12 that will be enshrined as the class of 2020, which includes former NBA MVP point guard Steve Nash of Canada and Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist and former NBA player Alexander Volkov.

Ruben Magnano, who led his native Argentina to the gold medal in the men’s competition at Athens 2004, and Tara VanDerveer, who navigated the USA women’s squad to gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games, were selected for the 2020 class as coaches.

Kenichi Sako addresses fans during a 2007 training camp at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. | KAZ NAGATSUKA
Kenichi Sako addresses fans during a 2007 training camp at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. | KAZ NAGATSUKA

“I was informed by FIBA that I was selected for the Hall of Fame and I was in shock,” Sako said in a statement. “At the same time, I feel so honored and am happy for that. This has not been achieved on my own. It could not have been done so without the support of all those many who have been associated with me including my coaches, teammates and those who cheered on me.”

The announcement of the 2020 class was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. FIBA will reveal the 2021 class on Thursday and the two classes will be enshrined together in an online ceremony on June 18.

Sako is only the second Japanese person to be inducted into the Hall of Fame following 2007 inductee Yoshimi Ueda, who served as a FIBA and Japan Olympic Committee member.

During his playing days, Sako was dubbed Japan’s “Mr. Basketball” for winning a series of league and individual titles as a point guard.

The Yokohama native helped his Isuzu Motors Giga Cats and Aisin SeaHorses capture nine league championships in the 1990s and 2000s, winning a combined 12 Emperor’s Cups with his teams and chalking up three season MVP awards.

Sako regularly donned the Japan men’s jersey as well and competed at the 1995 University Games and 1998 FIBA World Championship.

Sako retired in 2011 and served as a head coach for the Hiroshima Dragonflies for three seasons from 2014-15. He is currently an assistant coach under Julio Lamas for the Japan men’s team, which will play in the Tokyo Olympics.

“What I can do now is to keep learning as a coach to help the players and tell my experience as a player to them,” Sako said of his role as a coach. “I would like to keep working hard to be a coach that can develop the heart of the players, not just skills and strategies, and to help the young players make progress just like I was done so by my coaches.”

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