Wizards connecting with Hachimura's hometown of Toyama

When Rui Hachimura was selected by the Wizards with the ninth overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, league commissioner Adam Silver announced the selection as he does for all international players entering the league, with mention of the player’s hometown: “Rui Hachimura, from Toyama, Japan and Gonzaga University.”

For most fans, the specificity of the announcement may have gone unnoticed, but across the globe in Toyama, it was a moment of pride, joy and affirmation that one of their own had put their city on a worldwide stage.

“When it was announced at the draft, “Rui Hachimura, Toyama Japan,” we were overcome with emotion,” said Kiyoshi Mizuno of Kitanihon Broadcasting. “Rui is the miracle and pride of Toyama.”

On Monday, April 26, the Wizards will celebrate Japanese Heritage Night when they take on the Spurs at Capital One Arena. The night will include an address from Hachimura to Wizards fans around the world, a Hachimura jersey giveaway, a message from Japanese Ambassador to the United States Tomita Koji and much more.

In his second season with the team, Hachimura has established himself as one of the focal points of the team’s future – a dynamic two-way player who has made noticeable improvement in nearly every aspect of his game since he joined the team two years ago. Off the court, Hachimura has connected the organization to a fanbase and culture thousands of miles away. Monday night’s programming will be a celebration of that culture and the impact of Hachimura’s presence.

The Wizards have one of the most internationally diverse rosters in the NBA, including Hachimura (Japan), Deni Avdija (Israel), Isaac Bonga (Germany), Davis Bertans (Latvia), Alex Len (Ukraine) and Raul Neto (Brazil), bringing different backgrounds, cultures and experiences into the locker room. Players have talked of trying new foods with teammates and singing happy birthday in different languages after practice. Outside the locker room, the organization’s connection to fans all around the world has grown exponentially in recent years.

That connection, passion and excitement is palpable, especially in Japan – and the Wizards are making a concerted effort to make those communities feel as close to the organization as possible, no matter how far away.

On a trip to Toyama late last year, Zac Ikuma, Daiei Onoguchi and Ryo Shinkawa, members of the Wizards’ global digital media team, made the trip to Toyama. It was one of three such trips they’ve made since Hachimura was drafted in an effort to connect directly with the city and community that raised one of the Wizards’ brightest stars. What they found was pride, enthusiasm and admiration for someone representing their city on a global scale.

As Ikuma, Onoguchi and Shinkawa connected with others around Toyama, that pride became evident.

“He is a star. He is an irreplaceable figure.”

“He is Toyama’s own superstar.”

“He is our dream.”

“I’d love to be able to play like him.”

“(When he was drafted), the whole Toyama region was brought to tears…That’s how much we are behind Rui.”

“It makes us so happy that the name Toyama is mentioned around the world.”

The city’s pride for Hachimura was overwhelming and the importance of maintaining the connection between that community and the team was apparent. With that in mind, Shinkawa has been active in furthering the bond between the Wizards and Hachimura’s hometown.

On March 20, the city opened a brand-new three-on-three basketball court just outside the home arena of the B League’s Toyama Grousers. Shinkawa attended the event, which included a message from Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard, and giveaways of Hachimura and Bradley Beal autographed jerseys.

“There is no question the ‘Rui Effect’ is powering these kinds of developments,” said Kazuki Makita of the Toyama Basketball Association.

Earlier this month, Shinkawa visited Toyama again to meet with Mayor Masashi Mori and presented him with an autographed Hachimura jersey to be showcased in the city hall.

“Rui Hachimura’s play makes not only people from Toyama, but the whole country, proud,” said Mori. “Hopefully it can lead to the younger generation in Toyama looking up to him, participating in basketball and aiming to become a player in the international stages like him.”

With nearly 7,000 miles between Washington D.C. and Toyama, maintaining a connection between Hachimura’s Wizards and his hometown can be difficult. In addition to creating local touchpoints and developing relationships with key figures in Toyama, the Wizards’ growing global digital efforts have emerged as an important bridge between the team and its fans abroad.

Since the Fall of 2019, the Wizards have launched Twitter and Instagram pages tailored specifically toward the Japanese audience, combining for over 80,000 followers, and launched a Japanese-language website to keep the team’s long-distance fans connected and informed of everything happening around the team.

Kitanihon Newspaper, a local Toyama publication, is creating a column called the “Washington Wizards Post,” with a focus on the Wizards team as a whole, not just Hachimura. The first article will be an interview with Ikuma, discussing Justin Kutcher of NBC Sports Washington’s “Konnichiwa!” call of a Hachimura dunk against the Pistons last month.

In addition to Japanese Heritage Night, the Wizards celebrated Cherry Blossom Night earlier this month, which included a National Anthem performance from Kimiko Shimada, choral director of the Japanese Choral Society of Washington, a halftime performance from TAIKOPROJECT performance courtesy of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Japan Foundation, a Hachimura bobblehead giveaway, and more.

As Hachimura continues to build his legacy in the NBA and expand his recognition in the United States, he’ll have an additional community across the globe, one that’s seen him grow up from the beginning, pulling for him along the way.

Ikuma, Onoguchi and Shinkawa, in their trip to Toyama in November, met with Joji Sakamoto, who coached Hachimura during his time at Okuda Middle School. Sakamoto remembered vividly the phone conversation he had with Hachimura soon after he was drafted and reflected on the advice he shared on that phone call.

“I hope he will be remembered as someone who was dominant throughout his career,” Sakamoto said. “Because he’s the first. It’s good to dream big, but the weight of that dream could weight you down, so focus on each day. But I bet he is grinding every single day. I’ve said this repeatedly and I think this mindset is helping him succeed. If he just focuses on every single day, I think he can have a 15-to-20-year career. I hope he is seen that way.”

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