As you all know, Rui Hachimura was the first Japanese player to be nominated for the first draft in the 2019 NBA Draft . However, although he was the first draft “1st round” nominee, he was not the “first ever” nominee. There was only one other Japanese player in front of him who received a draft nomination. That is Yasutaka Okayama, who was nominated in the 8th round in 1981. I would like to take up the NBA Draft nominees, who are only “two” Japanese, here.
The first Japanese NBA player to become a phantom
Born in 1954, Yasutaka Okayama started playing basketball late, after entering college. The reason was that the director of the basketball club at Osaka University of Commerce recruited him, who was 2m30cm, which was an exceptional height for a Japanese. As a result, he wasn’t a good compliment in terms of technology, but he’s tall enough to stand out quickly.
Okayama, who graduated from university in 1979 and became a member of the adult team “Sumitomo Metal Industries” as a basketball player, will play an important role in the Japanese league. He was nominated in the 1981 NBA Draft for the eighth round (currently up to two rounds) by the Golden State Warriors, an NBA team that took notice of his success and non-standard height.
However, Okayama did not receive this nomination. At that time, professional athletes could not participate in the Olympics. It wasn’t until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that professional athletes were able to participate in the Olympics . He chose to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan. In this way, the appearance of the first NBA player in history will be waiting for Yuta Tabuse in 2004.
After 38 years
The 2019 NBA Draft, 38 years after Okayama was nominated. There, the name of Rui Hachimura was read aloud. At this moment, he became the first Japanese player in history to be nominated in the first round of the NBA Draft, and the first Japanese player to enter the NBA world after the draft. This was also a feat of being the third Japanese NBA player after Tabuse and Yuta Watanabe.
Unlike Okayama, it was not surprising that he was nominated as a leading candidate for the draft at a prestigious university in the United States, but for the Japanese basketball world, a huge step forward. It can be said that it was. The history of the Japanese basketball world, which had stopped, began to move the needle again.