RAFU STAFF REPORTS
With its basketball season already wrought with uncertainty and in turmoil after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Basketball Japan League was further broadsided last month when one of its most successful teams revealed it has withdrawn from the 13-team league.
The Tokyo Apache announced June 7 that it was suspending all operations and pulling out of the league after it failed to secure sponsors and business partners by the deadline set by the league. The BJ League has enjoyed substantial growth and popularity since it began in 2005 as an alternative to the Japan Basketball League and its system of company teams, but the Apache were reportedly experiencing cash problems even before the events of March 11.
The Apache was one of three BJ teams to cancel the remainder of its 2010-2011 season games, along with the Sendai 89ers and the Saitama Broncos, after the natural disasters that devastated parts of northern Japan.
Apache team President Chris Hetherington said the team regretted the decision, but that it was not able to resolve its financial crises within the given time. The team added that the Apache will work with the league to restructure the schedule so as not to affect the remaining teams and that its relief efforts for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami will continue.
The Apache announced its withdrawal a mere 12 days after committing to remain in the league, and its departure leaves Tokyo with no team representing the Japanese capital in the BJ.
An announcement on the Apache’s Web site, posted in March when it cancelled the remainder of its season, read, “It was a very difficult decision as we know that there are many loyal Apache fans looking forward to our games. However, given the current situation in Tokyo as well as in eastern Japan, we believe it is the best interests of all to make this decision.”
The site also includes information on how refunds for tickets will be arranged.
The Apache feature former Schurr High School and Cal State Dominguez Hills star Darin Maki, as well as former NBA player Robert Swift. Maki, who was selected sixth overall by the Apache in the first BJ League draft, was in his sixth season with the Tokyo team.
The league had plans for expanding for the 2014-2015 season. One of the localities hoping for one of the new BJ teams was Miyagi Prefecture, which was one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. Neighboring Iwate Prefecture, which also suffered greatly, had organized one of four expansion teams for the current season.
Barely a week later, the Oita HeatDevils of the BJ League was asking fans to donate money to keep the team in business next season.
The team’s owners posted a message on Oita’s official website saying they need to raise $550,000 to keep the team going for the 2011-2012 season. Fans are being asked to make contributions of $125 or $150.
The HeatDevils averaged only about 1,000 fans for home games this season. The team finished seventh in the nine-team Western Conference with a record of 16 wins and 32 losses.
The team fired its American head coach, L.J. Hepp, in March after he was unable to convince three American players to stay in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.