The entrance to Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo was abuzz on Saturday, September 8, as a crowd of blue and gold-clad basketball fans gathered outside the office exterior for their chance to meet with a bona fide NBA superstar. The excited fans were there to see none other than three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA All-Star and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.
Green’s visit to Rakuten headquarters was part of a tour facilitated by the NBA and Rakuten TV, who recently joined forces to broadcast NBA games in Japan. Green’s team, the Golden State Warriors, also partnered with Rakuten last year in one of the NBA’s first jersey sponsorship deals.
“With the partnership between Rakuten and the Golden State Warriors, I got the chance to know [Rakuten CEO] Mickey really well. He said to me all year, ‘You gotta come to Japan, you gotta come to Japan, it’s amazing!’” Green shared during a Q&A session with reporters at Crimson House. “I’ve always heard great things about it, so it was definitely a trip I wanted to take.”
On the basketball scene in Japan, Green was impressed with what he saw. “Japan has really started to grow. You start to see a lot of guys come over here and play the B.League [Japan’s top professional basketball league], which is incredible,” he stated. “The game has become so global now—Japan, China, all over Europe. What started with the NBA has really grown as a global game. I think that’s really pushed the game forward a lot, and I think it will continue to go that way with the partnership with Rakuten.”
Following the Q&A, world champion caricature artist Dai Tamura made a personal delivery of his portrait of Green, which featured in the promotion of the event. “I went to a Warriors game in Oakland this past April, but this is the first time I’ve actually met Draymond,” Tamura explained. “I just shook his hand and gave him my drawing — he was really happy and gave me an autograph!”
Fans tried their hands at the NBA 2K19 video game and the NBA League Pass virtual reality experience while waiting for the main event of the day, when fans were invited to participate in the “Draymond Green Shooting Challenge.” Scores of challengers competed against the clock to sink a number of baskets from five select spots around the court, with the quickest shooters earning the chance to challenge Green himself.
The event was hosted by MC Mamushi and Chris Sasaki, two well-known personalities from the Japanese basketball scene, who were later joined by Maya Miyagawa of the Rakuten NBA32, Rakuten’s NBA ambassador program in Japan. Fans eager to catch a glimpse of their on-court idol spilled out of the entrance of the venue in a display of basketball fever that made the NBA star and his team feel right at home.
The event heated up as the four finalists took turns racing against the clock to determine their challenge time for Green to beat. The reigning champion cheered the contestants on from the stage, until it was the star’s turn in the spotlight. After some playful banter, Green made quick work of his opponents, ending his challenge with a dunk and eliciting a roar from the enthusiastic audience.
Despite the Draymond demolition, the finalists were pumped about meeting their hero. “It was really fun meeting Draymond. I’d never met an NBA player before,” said Yua, aged 13. “He was huge, and he was making shots from all over the court. It’s my dream to play for the NBA.”
Ryo, aged 10, expressed his enthusiasm for his favorite team: “I like the Warriors because they’re a strong team. I’ve even been to see them before in America. They have amazing teamwork.”
From the high school and above category, Kazuhiro came the closest to challenging Green’s dominance, ultimately falling short after some heated competition. “I’m really grateful to Rakuten for giving me this opportunity,” he said, before commenting on the NBA’s rising popularity in Japan: “I used to have to settle for clips of the NBA on YouTube or other streaming sites, but from this year it’s all on Rakuten TV.”
The event ended with a Q&A session for fans, who wanted to know all about Green’s training routine and mental preparation for games. When asked about his favorite Japanese food, Green appeared to settle on sushi, before remembering another crowd-pleasing favorite: A5 grade wagyu beef.
The visit left Green with a strong first impression of Japan. “Tokyo’s super clean!” he noted, adding: “The respect that everyone shows, it’s fantastic. Thanks to Mickey for constantly inviting me and making this a place that I really wanted to come and experience.”