There has never been a better time to be a hoops fan in Japan.

Since partnering with the NBA in October 2017, Rakuten has been putting in work to promote the game of basketball in the land of the rising sun. The exclusive partnership saw Rakuten become a provider of NBA coverage across Japan as well as a global marketing partner of the NBA. But this isn’t solely about connecting with bball-lovers online and on screen; over the past 18 months, video on demand (VOD) service Rakuten TV has organized numerous offline events in Japan for some of the nation’s most passionate fans.

From live Q&A sessions with NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen, to shooting contests with NBA champions Draymond Green and Danny Green (both currently competing in the 2019 NBA Finals), to NBA All-Star game public viewings featuring Japanese pro players and other celebrities — Rakuten TV has made it a priority to reward basketball enthusiasts with unforgettable, fan-centric experiences.

Kemba comes to Tokyo

Their latest such event: an NBA Finals public viewing party Hosted by Rakuten TV and featuring Charlotte Hornets All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker.

Held May 31 at Shibuya Stream Hall in Tokyo, the event was the largest yet for Rakuten TV, with more than 650 attendees in all. And no matter who they were cheering for at the viewing party, it’s unlikely fans went home disappointed.

After a thriller of a game, the Toronto Raptors were able to protect home court advantage by earning a victory over the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who incidentally, named Rakuten their first-ever Jersey-badge partner in 2017.

The Rakuten TV NBA Finals public viewing party with Kemba Walker in Tokyo was the company’s biggest fan event yet with more than 650 attendees in all.
The Rakuten TV NBA Finals public viewing party with Kemba Walker in Tokyo was the company’s biggest fan event yet with more than 650 attendees in all.

Regardless of the outcome of the best-of-7 series, it won’t be the last NBA lovers see of the Raptors in Japan. Earlier this year, the NBA and Rakuten announced that the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets will play a pair of preseason games in Japan this fall.

And for Warriors fans, two-time Kia NBA MVP Award winner Stephen Curry’s Underrated Tour basketball camp will hold an official stop in Tokyo later this month to host his first-ever Underrated Tour stop to be held outside the U.S. The Rakuten-powered tour is designed to help empower underrated basketball talent through the philosophy and training of Curry, one of the NBA’s greatest players.

While the venue last Friday was packed with fans rooting for different teams and players from across the NBA, their shared love of basketball created a sense of community that was nothing short of magic. Before the buzzer sounded on the 118 – 109 Raptors victory, fans and media got a chance to ask Walker questions during a special Q&A session. Queries ranged from Walker’s pick to win this year’s Finals, to his thoughts on Japanese prospect Rui Hachimura who has officially declared for the 2019 NBA Draft, and what it takes to excel as an undersized player.

Kemba Walker gave a pair of his signature NIKE basketball shoes to a fan at the Rakuten TV NBA Finals public viewing party in Tokyo.
Kemba Walker gave a pair of his signature NIKE basketball shoes to a fan at the Rakuten TV NBA Finals public viewing party in Tokyo.

All-Star Q&A with fans and media

Here are some of the highlights from Kemba Walker’s Q&A session:

On what makes the Toronto Raptors special:

“These are two great teams. Toronto’s been playing great all season… They are one of the best defensive teams that we have in our league. I think that’s why they’ve made it this far.”

And why the Golden State Warriors are so tough to beat:

“They’re defending champions, they have some of the best players in the league. We all know Kevin Durant is hurt but they still have some great players, some great superstars. Steph [Curry]. Klay [Thompson]. They have DeMarcus Cousins back. They have some great role players as well, it’s going to be a really good series and a tough battle.”

And the winner is?

It’s hard to go against Golden State, just because of their experience and how many times they’ve won championships. But, then again, you have some experienced guys in Toronto as well. Especially in Kawhi [Leonard]. I’m going to have to say, in my opinion, Golden State are probably going to win the championship. Finals MVP, I’m going to have to say Steph.

On the prospect of playing for the U.S.A. National Team:

“It would be an honor. It would be my first time in my professional career that I would get the opportunity to compete [on that stage]. And it would be an honor to play against Japan. I love playing against different competition, especially guys from other countries.”

On his thoughts about Rui Hachimura, a Gonzaga University forward and Japanese national expected to be picked in the first round of this year’s NBA draft, making him the first Japanese player to be selected in the draft:

“I’m a big college basketball fan. I got a chance to watch Rui a lot last year and I’ve always been a fan of him. With the way the league is now… I think he’s going to do really well. I think one day he’s going to be a big name in the NBA. I’m looking forward to seeing his growth and progress over the years.

On the mindset necessary to compete in the NBA:  

“You know it’s the best league in the world. You work against the best players in the world every single night, so the challenge on that level is that you have to be prepared each and every night to bring your best. But it’s fun. If you love to compete, if you love to go up against the best each and every night, it makes it much easier if you’re a competitor.”

On making it as an undersized athlete:

“As a smaller guy, you need to have a really high work ethic. I try my best to work harder than everybody else. That’s just what you have to do. You know, being smaller, of course it’s hard to get your shot off, so you have to figure out your niche. Know how to be the best at what you do. Mentally, you have to be tough as well. A lot of taller guys will try to go at you on the offensive end. You have to be mentally tough and really have a high work ethic.” 

Walker poses with B.League stars Ryusei Shinoyama (left) and Makoto Hieijima at the NBA Finals viewing party.
Walker poses with B.League stars Ryusei Shinoyama (left) and Makoto Hieijima at the NBA Finals viewing party.

For more on Rakuten’s partnership with the NBA, visit here.