As 19-year-old phenom Yuki Kawamura grew up, one of the NBA players he would frequently watch was Isiah Thomas.
Read carefully — that’s former Detroit Pistons player Isiah Thomas, not the Isaiah Thomas known best for his two All-Star Game appearances in 2016 and 2017 while with the Boston Celtics.
Kawamura’s father raised him on a steady diet of NBA videos from before he was born, and he gravitated toward Thomas, one of the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” who regularly served as foils for the eventual six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls.
“I loved Michael Jordan so much and when I’d watch him, the Pistons were the wall that the Bulls had to overcome,” Kawamura said. “And it was so much fun to watch and I would see (Thomas) play a lot.”
Coincidentally, Kawamura’s sneakers come from Asics, the same brand worn by Basketball Hall of Fame point guard Thomas. At a Tokyo event announcing the signing of an advisory contract with the footwear manufacturer, the point guard — who hopes one day to represent Japan internationally — said that he has tended toward Asics-made kicks the most since he began playing basketball in elementary school.
“I didn’t know that Thomas was wearing them from the beginning. I heard about it a year or two ago,” Kawamura said. “And I was like, ‘Oh wow, really?’
“I’m glad that I’ve signed a contract with the same company that a player that I grew up watching was wearing.”
Besides Thomas, former guard/forward Calbert Cheaney was known to sport Asics in the 1990s. Even Asics staff members were not 100% certain if any other NBA players after Thomas and Cheaney had worn their shoes, which were among the Kobe-based company’s first products following its 1949 founding.
But according to Naoki Matsushita, a managing executive officer for Asics, the company modified its strategy after the Thomas era, focusing on running sports such as marathons that had a wider global customer base.
With Kawamura on board, the company is now looking to promote its basketball shoes — which are popular locally — to a wider audience, including those playing the game overseas.
“It’s about what kind of players we have and the timing,” Matsushita said of his company’s potential international expansion in the sport. “If we have someone like Kawamura, who has the potential to shine for the national team globally, we would like to target being able to promote ourselves internationally again.”
According to Asics, the company has produced signature-model shoes and other types of equipment for local baseball stars such as Ichiro, Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, while it has done the same for international sporting phenoms such as tennis world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Spanish soccer legend Andres Iniesta.
Matsushita suggested that Asics may also consider developing a signature shoe for Kawamura, who joins Ryusei Shinoyama of the B. League’s Kawasaki Brave Thunders and Ramu Tokashiki of the Women’s Japan Basketball League’s Eneos Sunflowers on the company’s roster.
Kawamura said that he was humbled to become part of the group, which provides feedback on product development in addition to appearing in advertising campaigns.
“Hopefully I’ll eventually reach their level by performing well on the global stage,” Kawamura said.
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