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PLUS - basketball
Lakers vs. Warriors at Tokyo Dome


Courtesy of the NBA

Basketball fans in Japan are in for a treat on Oct 13 and 14 when two-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers take on the Golden State Warriors at Tokyo Dome as one of the highlights of the league' 2001 preseason schedule.

It will be the sixth time the NBA has staged games in Japan since 1990 and the first trip to Asia for both teams, which are expected to bring their full contingent of stars including Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The games reflect Japan's growing importance in the NBA's global expansion plans, said the league's managing director in Japan, Daisuke David Nakajima.

"We're trying to bring the game closer to the Japanese populace. We can't continue to say we are a global league and that we appreciate international fan support if we don't go to those locales," he said.

Nakajima's goal is to get annual NBA games in Japan as the sport becomes more popular. The league's Japanese webpage currently gets about 14,000 hits a day, while NBA merchandise is selling well at sporting goods and specialty stores through the league's tie-up with retailer Japan Sports Vision.

Games are regularly shown on both NHK satellite and TBS television, albeit usually with a half-day time delay.

"We find the NBA is being embraced by casual fans as well as hardcore fans now," he explained. "What we'd really like to see is a Japanese player do well in the NBA, even if he were just on the bench. Major League Baseball is the darling of the media now thanks to Ichiro and other Japanese, but I think a Japanese player could make it in the NBA within the next decade."

Although time constraints will prevent the players from doing much besides concentrating on their games during the October visit, Nakajima said some other events are being planned to allow fans to watch the teams practice and possibly take part in clinics.

Once again, Tokyo Dome has been chosen for the games instead of Saitama Super Arena, which hosted the US Olympic men's basketball team on their way to Sydney last August.

With a capacity of 40,000 (including some "nosebleed" seats), the Dome remains Tokyo's pre-eminent sports venue, said Nakajima. "I think we'll fill it," he said. "After all, it's a chance to see the two-time NBA champion Lakers play."

Tickets go on sale July 14 at various ticket outlets, NBA Ticket Dial (03-5412-773) and on the NBA's official Japanese web site at http://www.nba.com/japan

Chris Betros


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