A year later, Rui Hachimura returns to Japan

TOKYO — Roy Hachimura flocked to the yellow-lit gym with another 120 or so people in credentials, a group of American and Japanese reporters, social media influencers, sponsorship partners, and three men in sumo clothes. Everyone crammed into two small areas of the court marked for interviews, except for the three men, fortunately Dressed in sumo clothes.

Members of the press who wear the jersey of the player they’re covering will be the cause of a few raised eyebrows in the States. But at the Minato Sports Center on Thursday, a few men in the red Roy Hatchimura No.8 Washington Wizards jersey were not noticed as they wore video cameras over their shoulders or took snapshots on smartphones.

It was a warm welcome home to Japan’s biggest basketball export.

The Wizards’ plan to beat the 14-hour journey includes steak and eggs

The original Hashimura returned to his native Japan when the Wizards were relegated on Wednesday with two pre-season games against the Golden State Warriors scheduled to be played at the Saitama Super Arena on Friday and Sunday in Japan.

This is the first time Hashimura has come home since then carry the flag of his country At the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics a little over a year ago. As the press crowd has shown, these games will differ from those as Japan continues to raise its epidemic precautions.

The group of reporters that Hachimura encountered at the Summer Games was probably half the size of Thursday’s squad, and the pandemic-era shrank by the two-meter distance between player and press to mere inches. In a tip on Friday, fans will be in the stands for the first NBA show in Japan since facing Toronto and Houston in 2019.

“It reminds me of when I was drafted,” Hashimura said. “It’s been a while since I’ve felt this way.”

Despite his renewed intimacy with the camera lens, Hachimura would keep his distance from Japanese fans for the greater part of the Wizards’ short stay.

It’s in contrast to Washington’s 2013 trip to Rio de Janeiro with Nene, where the team played only one game and the Brazilian had time. host clinic And interact with every full fan in the crowded gym. In Japan, Washington has to squeeze two games and two practices into four days on the ground, which means a Thursday morning trip to Tokyo Tower to snap a helpful photo was one of the few non-eating trips the team outlined.

A lack of face time may be a good thing for Hachimura.

And the 24-year-old happened to come home a year ago broke the news That Hashimura would sit out for part of last season for mental health and fatigue purposes after years of relentless basketball between national team, college ball and NBA duties.

After emerging as a flag bearer in Tokyo, Hashimura was faced with a series of ugly and racist comments on Japanese social media despite the pride many felt at the selection of the first-ever Japanese player in the first round of the NBA draft. . She faced Naomi Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam tennis champion who is also a bi-racial Similar harassment After she lit the Olympic cauldron and then lost her match in the third round in a surprise.

The Wizards, who followed in Hachimura’s footsteps in talking about time away as a mental health respite without specifically mentioning the racism he faces, were aware of the potential for overexposure on this week’s trip. At a press conference last week, Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard said Hashimura was able to complete several sponsorship assignments prior to the team’s arrival in Japan, allowing the forward to focus on basketball.

Even with a streamlined schedule, Hatchimura has a huge role to play. He’s the NBA ambassador to Japan and a de facto tour guide to his colleagues – two jobs he seems to enjoy.

“I can imagine that means a lot,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said earlier this week. “Just an opportunity to be the face of our franchise while we’re on the ground, but it can also lead the mission in some player-only experiences or group bonding.”

Hachimura was answering questions from his teammates about what foods to try, where to shop (no matter how tight the schedule, there’s always time to shop) and the nuances of Japanese culture. The coach and general manager of the Japan men’s national team was in training on Thursday. Hashimura said that six or seven members of his family will be able to watch him play in person this weekend.

“The whole Japanese basketball, it’s getting bigger every year. It’s not just basketball, but the whole athlete — the sport is getting wider,” Hashimura said. It’s a good thing. I see a lot of Japanese representing the country playing in Europe or the United States, all over the world. You feel good.”

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Hashimura is not the only draw in Japan’s matches. Although he spent most of the time in front of reporters – he was the only player who spoke both English and Japanese – he was happy to share some stage with Stephen Curry of the Golden State, Draymond Green and Clay Thompson.

Carrie met K-pop star Suga, from the hugely popular group BTS, during a portion of his warrior training. Thompson comically attempted to overthrow another revered visitor, Hakuho Shu, the legendary sumo wrestler. A small group of fans waited outside the Minato Sports Center for Warriors training to finish, and one of them was holding Andre Iguodala’s 2019 diary.

But Hashimura alone carries with him the respect – and responsibility – of a national figurehead. No matter how many people in a crowd carry T-shirts bearing his last name.

“I’ve been wanting to do this thing since I was a kid. Finally here I am, actually going back to my country, my country, to play against the Warriors,” he said. “It feels crazy. It feels great, for sure.”

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