Rui Hachimura made history before ever stepping on an NBA court.

The 6-foot-8 forward became the first player born in Japan to be drafted when the Washington Wizards selected him with the No. 9 overall pick this June. His popularity in his home country is unmatched, making him unique among this year’s rookie class.

“I hope to continue to be the face of the sport in my home country,” Hachimura told ESPN this week.

Hachimura’s status as the favored son of an entire nation made him stand out among the crowd as potentially one of the most impactful rookie endorsers. The Japanese market remains relatively untapped, for both sneaker companies and the NBA as a whole. Hachimura represented a way for one lucky company to make inroads across the Pacific.

As he plays his first season in the NBA, a large contingent of Japanese media follows him around the league, tracking his every move — all while he sports the famed Jordan Brand Jumpman logo from head to toe.

“You’re going to see some things that you’ve never seen from an athlete before, with respect to developing and selling in a new country,” said Hachimura’s agent Jason Ranne.


While the NBA and sneaker companies have worked to make inroads in China for years, the Japanese market presents a different scale and opportunity.

Industry analysts and company projections anticipate that Nike Inc.’s footwear and apparel business in China could outpace the U.S. marketplace within the next 10 years. The sheer size and population difference — 1.4 billion in China versus 128 million in Japan — will always maintain a gap in the markets, with several thousand Nike stores already embedded in mainland China.

Japan, by comparison, currently features only Jordan products in several hundred stores, and Jordan’s overall revenue in Japan is just a fraction of what it is in China or the United States. The company hopes Hachimura can change that, becoming an icon in his homeland who also transcends throughout Asia.

“I think he’s going to take it to another level,” said Gentry Humphrey, Jordan’s VP of footwear. “He’s a perfect complement, and he’s going to help us grow our business internationally.”

Part of that growth is tied to the NBA’s ongoing efforts to grow basketball in Japan, an effort that should be boosted by next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

According to research by the Statista group, basketball participation over a 20-year period has shown only gradual growth in Japan. In 2011, 3.5% of the nation played the sport. The group found a “slight increase” in 2016 to 4.3%.


Source link