A lot has changed since basketball debuted in Japan at a Tokyo YMCA in 1908. But that hasn’t stopped the sport from captivating new fans across the country with each generation.
Propelled by the B.League’s successful launch in 2016, the growing popularity of basketball among young people and the rise of homegrown NBA players like rookie Rui Hachimura, the sport is currently enjoying unprecedented growth across the country. And there is likely more on the horizon, as evidenced by the new documentary from Stephen Curry and Rakuten that premiered worldwide earlier today on YouTube and NBA Rakuten. In many ways, Japan’s basketball story is only just beginning.
The Rising: Hoop Origins
The Rising is a short documentary film on the growth of basketball in Japan, capturing the intersection of the international sport with Japanese culture. Produced in collaboration with Curry’s SC30, Inc. and Limitless Creative Company, The Rising follows Curry on his journey through Tokyo earlier this year as he seeks out the next generation of hoops influencers and players who embody the sport’s future in Japan.
The film centers on the June 2019 Tokyo stop of the Underrated Tour, powered by Rakuten, where local youth athletes had the chance to meet and receive guidance from the Golden State Warriors star. Curry created the Underrated Tour, a series of youth basketball camps, to empower and mobilize basketball’s next generation of underrated athletes.
“The idea behind the Underrated Tour is simple: create a basketball camp for high school players who are looking for the chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be secret strengths,” said Curry earlier this year. Adding, “That was my story… I was repeatedly labeled ‘undersized,’ and ‘not a finisher,’ all these limitations spoken over me before I even came into my own. Underrated is going to change that and we are excited to bring the tour to Japan where we aim to usher in a new era of Japanese basketball.”
In addition to Rakuten’s partnership with Stephen Curry and the Underrated Tour, the company is also a global marketing and exclusive media distribution partner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for all live games in Japan. Rakuten also presented the NBA Japan Games 2019, which brought the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets to Saitama for two sold-out preseason matchups.
Growing the sport closer to home
What do two-time Kia NBA MVP Award winner Stephen Curry and NBA Legend Tony Parker have in common, besides both having six NBA All-Star game appearances and multiple NBA Championship rings on their resumes? They both visited Tokyo this year to meet with basketball fans and encourage the next generation of players.
20 years ago, when I was dreaming about playing in the NBA, there were no European point guards. But I didn’t care. I was dreaming big and said, ‘Why not me?’”– Tony Parker
Parker, a longtime star of France’s national team, shared his thoughts on basketball’s surge in popularity on the sidelines of an NBA Rakuten Public Viewing Event in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku neighborhood earlier this month. “It helps when you have a good ambassador, and Rui Hachimura can be a great one for Japan. He’s got all the tools to be a great player for a long time in this league. Like Yao Ming and China; Dirk and Germany,” Parker noted. “It starts with that, and then it makes the kids want to play basketball. It’s growing and going in the right direction, that’s for sure.”
Noting the love for basketball exhibited by the fans, Parker commented on how much the sport had grown since he first visited the country in 2006. When asked what advice he’d give to young aspiring basketball players in Japan, he replied, “It sounds so simple, but work hard and be disciplined. Be ready to make sacrifices. Just like in anything you want to be good at, you have to work at it, practice and get better.”
Parker believes in the future. “To all the kids who want play in the NBA, don’t be afraid to dream big. 20 years ago, when I was dreaming about playing in the NBA, there were no European point guards. But I didn’t care. I was dreaming big and said, ‘Why not me?’”
For young players who share Parker’s childhood hoop dreams, this is an exciting time to be in Japan. With inspiration from visiting superstars like Stephen Curry and Tony Parker and rising talents like Rui Hachimura leading the way, the country’s basketball future has never been brighter.