When the Kawasaki Brave Thunders announced they had parted ways with longtime star Naoto Tsuji, the news sent shock waves through their fanbase.
Tsuji appeared to be a little taken aback himself.
“Selfishly, I thought I would be ending my career with this club, but my contract has expired and I’m leaving the Kawasaki Brave Thunders,” Tsuji said in a statement.
“Even now, I can’t believe that this is real,” he added later. “And to be honest, I only feel sad now.”
Tsuji joined the Hiroshima Dragonflies two days later.
Brave Thunders general manager Takuya Kita responded with his own statement, saying he thought Tsuji would play out his career in Kawasaki, but noted both sides had their own thoughts during the negotiations.
“We could not reach a deal with him, and I feel sorry we came to this result,” Kita said in the statement.
In addition to Tsuji, the Brave Thunders also declined to renew the contracts of Mathias Calfani, Yuto Otsuka and Yasunori Aoki, players who helped them reach the semifinal round of the playoffs this season.
The Brave Thunders, who were previously owned by Toshiba for nearly seven decades before the ownership moved to DeNA from the 2018-19 season, now have only four players — Ryusei Shinoyama, Nick Fazekas, Takumi Hasegawa and Yuma Fujii — who have been with the team since the Toshiba days.
The outflow of talent from Kawasaki, however, isn’t an outlier. The B. League, which began play in 2016, has seen a multitude of moves across the league each offseason since its inaugural season.
Yes, it’s part of the business. Pro athletes go to teams where they can get the best deal.
Some, however, question whether clubs can establish stability on the court and create a sense of familiarity for fans if they are shuffling their rosters every year.
Shinoyama, who has played for the Brave Thunders since graduating from Nihon University, is among those who have expressed concern.
“When you see the NBA, the business has become bigger and bigger and not many teams have franchise players anymore do they?” Shinoyama said during an online group interview on Thursday. “As an NBA fan, it’s very sad. I think it’s important for teams to have players who can be the face of the franchise and who the teams and cities build attention around.”
The 32-year-old guard says players can’t play forever and their prime years are limited. So money is important, especially when there are chances to earn more by moving to another team.
But he cautioned younger players and amateurs looking to become professionals to pay attention to other things, not just the money, that can help them maximize their value.
“Money is important but it’s not everything,” he said. “You have to look at other, intangible things such as the ties between the clubs and players, what kind of identities the clubs have and how close the players and fans are.
“To have more player moves every offseason is perhaps a good thing for the league in terms of offering interesting news to fans. Of course, it’s important for players to pursue better deals. I’m not going to deny that. But money is not everything.”
Shinoyama and Tsuji have been among the top players at their respective positions and were regarded as one of the most popular duos in the league, due in part to their cheerful demeanors.
Shinoya will certainly miss Tsuji, who he has played with for the last nine seasons, and hopes they can reunite before they finish their careers.
“That’s what Tsuji decided to do after all,” said Shinoyama, who will practice alongside Tsuji at the upcoming Japan national team training camp ahead of the Tokyo Olympics as a candidate. “It would be great if we can play together again in the final chapter of our careers — I’d like to send him off with the sentiment.”
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