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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

'Rebranded' JBL not fooling FIBA big shot

Staff writer

Some people may believe the Japan Basketball Association's rebranded top league, the National Basketball League, may be a legitimate upgrade when play begins for the 2013-14 season.

News photo
Seen this one before: FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann isn't deceived by the JBL's latest attempt to market itself as a new league. AP

Others believe differently, realizing it'll be more of the same, including FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann, the chief executive of the sport's global governing body. Baumann wasn't fooled by the cosmetic changes that will transform the Japan Basketball League into the NBL, a source with close ties to the sport's movers and shakers told The Japan Times.

While in Tokyo for the fourth FIBA Asia Cup last month, Baumann agreed with the source's assessment at a dinner event that the new league really isn't a new entity. That assessment was also shared by FIBA Central Board members Yvan Mainini of France and Hagop Khajirian of Lebanon.

"All of them foresaw it as only a farce," the source said.

Over the years, the JBL has gone through several name changes without embracing real reforms needed to develop a professional league. (Due to this decades-long stagnation, two JBL teams, Saitama and Niigata, defected and formed the six-team bj-league in 2005, Japan's first pro hoop circuit.)

FIBA executives were informed of what changes will be made to the JBL, which currently has eight top-division teams and 12 second-division clubs, "but honestly, there is nothing special to inform them," the source added.

"Aha," Baumann exclaimed in agreement during the dinner conversation, according to the source. "I know, I know."

On Sept. 17, Panasonic's announcement that it was pulling the plug on the JBL's Panasonic Trians after this season couldn't have come at a worse time for the JBA, what with FIBA officials in town for the Asia Cup.

But JBA officials intentionally kept FIBA executives, who had their own committee meetings scheduled, away from a news conference on Sept. 19 to avoid having them deal with the Asia press corps' questioning about the Panasonic problem, according to the source. (Panasonic was expected to be one of eight JBL top-flight teams to join the NBL.)

Two days later, "It was quite a ridiculous mockery when (JBA executive Mitsuru) Maruo wanted to have a make-believe 'show' on the NBL, which is just the far-fetched new league of the JBA," the source stated.

Maruo's modus operandi infuriated the hoop insider, who believes his actions were an insult to FIBA officials' time and intelligence.

"He knows nothing of the world," the source said of Maruo.

Having top FIBA leaders attend a news conference for a new league would give it a splash of gravitas, one would believe, but the JBA's archaic ways have proved to be a detriment to the sport's progress here.

Regarding the NBL's establishment, the source described it as "the mountains have brought forth a mouse."

Hearing that quote, one longtime basketball pundit replied by saying, "Does anything sum up the JBA, JBL, NBL — and yes, the bj-league as well — better than this?"

Osaka-based Panasonic's departure from the Japan men's basketball scene — the team began play 61 year ago — will create a void for longtime supporters. But JBL teams' long history of going out of business — more than a dozen teams in the past two decades — is a troubling sign even before the NBL begins.

"Many basketball friends of mine are saying, 'the NBL will have to retake stock of the inauguration during the 2012-13 season,' " the source said.

"There is a rumor some other longtime JBL teams will feel cornered in terms of financial issues of holding companies."

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