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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE

Season hangs in the balance


Staff writer

By all accounts, this is how to sum up the bj-league's current situation: a season in limbo.

News photo
Uncertain times: Sendai 89ers guard Hikaru Kusaka (17) and the rest of the bj-league's players are waiting to find out when they'll resume playing games. The league's upcoming schedule and immediate future are major question marks after Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Sendai. KAZ NAGATSUKA

The bj-league's 16 teams are waiting patiently to find out if — or when — they would resume their season and begin preparations for upcoming games.

This was after the cancellation of all 14 bj-league contests last weekend following the massive Sendai earthquake on Friday.

On Tuesday evening (at press time), it was still unclear how many games would be called off this week, but one league source said a decision has been pushed back until at least Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Sendai 89ers-Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix series — featuring the top two teams in the Eastern Conference — won't be played in Sendai this weekend.

Logistical challenges add further complications to game schedules, including delayed or canceled airplane flights and shinkansen trips. In addition, with power shortages and rolling blackouts throughout Honshu it's unknown how many gymnasiums, which are also serving as emergency shelters, will be available with proper lighting needed to stage games.

Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said Monday that all teams held fundraising efforts in their local communities over the weekend, raises millions of yen. Kawachi asked for continued support from fans and the basketball community, urging people to give to the Japanese Red Cross.

Akita Northern Happinets coach Bob Pierce, whose team began its inaugural season by playing host to the 89ers in the Tohoku derby on Oct. 16-17, is a vocal supporter of trying to find a way for Sendai and other teams to complete their season.

"Within reason and considering safety and travel concerns, I think they should resume as much as possible," Pierce told The Japan Times on Monday. "Teams need ticket sales for revenue. And bringing people out to the games that can take place gives fans a chance to donate money or goods to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami."

He added: "Or maybe a revised schedule with teams only playing opponents located nearby to cut down on travel. Maybe Sendai playing its home games as doubleheaders in Akita and/or Niigata with the teams splitting the gate (ticket sales) to help out."

Tokyo coach Bob Hill, whose team is currently in third place in the East, offered a different perspective.

"I think under these circumstances it might be best to discontinue the regular season and start the playoffs, maybe in Okinawa," Hill said Monday .

"Get everyone at the same venue. Get a champion. Or put the West in one city and the East in another. I think that creates the proper sensitivity the league needs under such grim circumstances."

Osaka Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell passed along his thoughts on the league's current situation, too.

"At this point basketball is not important," Blackwell said. "The safety and well being of everyone that is, and could be affected by the natural disasters, is (more important). I guess if Sendai wanted to continue with their season then the team owners/general manager would consider what to do financially."

Meanwhile, the rival JBL, an eight-team circuit, announced on Tuesday that it was ending its season early, canceling 24 regular-season games and up to 11 playoff contests due to last week's natural disasters.



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