JAPAN: SLAMMING THE OLD-SCHOOL BASKETBALL ‘TABOO’ OFF THE CULTURAL COURT

KATHERINE PETERSON WRITES- ‘Slam Dunk,’ a 1990’s Japanese anime, tells the story of a high school basketball team from Shōhoku High. Critics believed the program would lack viewers, as editors claimed that “basketball was a taboo in this world.” But without manga viewers, the No. 8 draft pick and Japan native, Rui Hachimura, might never have found his sport.

Hachimura played three years of college basketball at Gonzaga University before entering the NBA draft, making him only the second Japanese-born player to be selected. Not only was this an important cultural moment of pride for the Japanese, but one that had a major impact in terms of Asian representation in American professional basketball.

More to the point, statistics show a lack of inclusivity in many American sports.  0.9% of student-athlete baseball players, 0.57% of student-athlete basketball player, and 0.67% of student-athlete hockey players identify as Asian. These numbers are low not just at the collegiate level but in professional sports. It may be impossible for the average American to name more than five professional US athletes who are Asian.

In addition, stereotypes of Asian athletes have often been perpetuated by those who believe the entire race is unathletic and that Asians succeed, instead, in other “model minority” ways-for instance, in terms of socioeconomic and academic status.

Given all this, Hachimura recognizes how important his career in the league is: “…It’s going to be a dream. It means a lot for me, my family, Japanese basketball- the whole country,” he said. He is now seen as an A-list celebrity, after signing multi-year shoe deals with brands like Nike, Air Jordan and Nissin instant ramen. These victories are not only personal but professional and cultural. It looks like a big win on the horizon: Hachimura just may succeed in slamming that old-school Japanese basketball “taboo” off the world court.

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