Basketball has come a long way in Japan. It is now one of the most popular sports in the country at the junior and senior high school level for boys and girls, and interest in the game continues to rise.
Adding to this momentum is the recent announcement from the NBA and Rakuten that they will be bringing NBA games back to Japan, with a pair of preseason games between the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets scheduled for October 2019 — news that garnered headlines across Japan and around the world.
Only a few weeks earlier, Rakuten’s NBA All-Star 2019 Public Viewing Party in Tokyo drew an enthusiastic capacity crowd.
Rakuten TV: Uniting Japan’s basketball fans
On the evening of February 18, 2019, NBA fans gathered at a studio under the iconic Tokyo Tower to take in the year’s biggest basketball spectacle to-date, presented by Rakuten TV.
After partnering with the NBA in the fall of 2017, Rakuten’s video streaming platform launched a “Rakuten NBA Special” package, giving Japanese basketball fans unprecedented coverage of the world’s premiere basketball league. The deal came shortly after Rakuten partnered with reigning NBA champions the Golden State Warriors, transforming Rakuten into Japan’s main point of contact to the world of American pro basketball.
Rakuten TV has since hosted numerous events celebrating the NBA, inviting high-profile stars such as Draymond Green and Ray Allen to meet with fans in Japan and organizing live viewings of important NBA games around Japan. So of course the team couldn’t resist throwing another big party for one of the NBA’s biggest events of the year — the clash between Team Lebron and Team Giannis at the NBA All-Star Game.
Superstars on the big screen under Tokyo Tower
Despite the Monday evening timeslot (due to time zone differences), the public venue quickly filled up with excited fans looking to see some of the sensational plays the All-Star games are known for. They found themselves in a venue decked out with NBA decorations, complete with a DJ, stadium favorites like hot dogs, nachos and drinks, and a wide selection of official NBA merchandise.
Hosting the event was the popular local basketball personality MC Mamushi, who gave a running commentary alongside Japanese supermodel Maggy, actress Misako Yasuda, and Japanese B-Leaguers Kenji Hilke and Ryo Tawatari.
Fans of Team Lebron, led by Maggy, occupied one side of the giant screen while rival Team Giannis supporters, led by Yasuda, attempted to out-cheer them from the other side. The five hosts took to the stage in the middle of the crowd to provide commentary for the raw satellite feed from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Both sides of the venue erupted into cheers as their heroes performed increasingly spectacular dunks, and veteran favorites such as Dirk Nowitzki graced the game with a series of long-range three-pointers. Ultimately, it was the Team Lebron supporters who went home cheering, as they turned an early 20-point deficit around to defeat Team Giannis 178-164.
Fueling NBA fever in Japan
Warriors fan Saori, who works in an office in nearby Shimbashi, brought a friend along to the event. “It’s great to be able to see all the best players together showing off what they can do,” she said. “You don’t often get the chance to let loose and have fun with everyone like this.”
Parallel to the event at Tokyo Tower, Rakuten TV also ran free public viewings at 10 pubs around Japan, ensuring that the All-Star fever was shared widely. With so many fan meetups, public viewings and comprehensive NBA coverage on Rakuten TV, Japan is on track to see the game soar to even greater heights in 2019.