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NBA takes Japan by storm

By Rechelle Tuares

SAITAMA -- The growing global popularity of the NBA first kicked in during the 90s. It has only kept going strong.

The association took its act to Japan last September 29 and October 2 and the event, which marked the 15th and 16th time the NBA has visited the country, was predictably an instant hit.

The pair of pre-season exhibition games between the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards were sold out at the Saitama Super Arena which houses a capacity crowd of 22,500 for basketball events. The arena could hold up to 37,000 for concerts.

The number of fans trooping the arena was hardly any surprise.

"Our fan base is growing. There is real momentum around basketball in Japan, and it's a real important market for the NBA," said NBA Asia managing director Ramez Sheikh.

Illustrating that point, the Japanese language social media accounts of the NBA have 1.6 million followers.

The presence of Wizards star Rai Hachimura attracted more attention.

"It was all about Rui," Hunter Lochman, the chief marketing officer at Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, told reporters.

Of course, there was Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and the dynastic Bay Area Dubs.

As for the games, well both didn't disappoint.

The Warriors won both games, the first one at 96-87 where James Wiseman tallied 20 points while Curry only had six points in only 13 minutes of action.

The second game, Golden State took a 104-95 decision, this time Curry sizzled for 17 while Hachimura had a double-double for Washington with 10 points and 11 boards.

No word yet when the NBA returns to Japan but this latest visit will be savored by the fans for years to come.















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