Friday, December 18, 2009

Ryukyu Golden Kings 75 at Tokyo Apache 70 - bj League - December 16, 2009

After watching my first bj League game in Sendai this past weekend, I thought I would see a game here in Tokyo to compare the experience. So after work, I headed over to Yoyogi's National Gymnasium #2 to watch the Ryukyu Golden Kings take on the hometown Apache.

Getting There

The gym is located about 5 minutes from exit #1 of Meiji Jingu Mae subway station on the Chiyoda or Fukutoshin Lines. As well, Harajuku station is nearby. You have to walk over some bridges and then around the larger #1 gymnasium to reach the #2 gym. There are maps at each station but it's hard to miss the unique structure of gym #1, so you shouldn't have any trouble.

The Stadium

The smaller companion to the national gymnasium that was used as the basketball and swimming venue in the 1964 Olympics, Yoyogi #2 National Gym is a circular arena that seats 3,2o2 fans. It's a very interesting design with a suspension roof, and sloping walkways around the back side. Because it is a circular shape, the court barely fits inside and sitting at the corners provides a great view of the action - you are almost right above the players, which provides a unique point of view.

There are really only two types of seats: the 4,000 yen fixed seats, which are slightly closer, and the 2,500 yen open seating, which are great, especially in the corners. In fact, the more expensive seats (they are the orange ones in the picture above) lack backs and are not as well positioned. With the circular arena, there are no true sideline seats - instead these seats are too far from the floor but still relatively low - this is not a good way to watch the game. There are a few courtside seats but these seem to be reserved for season tickets.

There were two food stands: one just offered some fried chicken and snacks, while the other offered a more complete curry meal from a trailer parked outside (see below) which I was told was quite good.

The Teams

The Ryukyu Golden Kings are based in Okinawa, the first pro sports team there. They are the defending bj League Champions, and this is their third season in the league. They came into the series leading the Western Conference with a 13-3 record. They are led by two Indiana Hoosier alumni in George Leach and Jeff Newton.

The Tokyo Apache lost the final to Ryukyu last season, but have been a strong team throughout their first 4 seasons in the league, when they were coached by Joe Bryant, father of some guy named Kobe. This year however, they are under new management and a new coach and are struggling mightily at 5-11, good for last place in the East. Their top scorer is Julius Ashby who played his college ball in Colorado.

The Game

I thought I'd recap the game here but found that the Japan Times does a much better job than I could.

Some additional points that I found interesting. Tokyo went on a 20-4 run to end the first quarter, but then Okinawa went on a 20-4 run to start the 2nd quarter. Tokyo never recovered from that turnaround.

In the 4th, Bryan Simpson of Ryukyu, who was a serviceman in Okinawa before being drafted by the Golden Kings, had an alley-oop followed by a flying dunk that made the score 59-49 and seemed to end any chance of a Tokyo comeback. But the Apache kept it close enough and were just 7 points down with a minute to go when they started the foul-a-thon in an effort to close the gap. With Ryukyu's poor foul shooting, this was a good gamble, and sure enough they closed the gap to 2. But the Golden Kings made 3 of their last 4 free throws to clinch the 75-70 victory.

George Leach with the hook shot

To me, Tokyo lost because of fouls and turnovers. Both teams shot around 43% but Tokyo only managed 2 trips to the line while the Kings had 31 free throws. They only connected on 17 of those (54.1%) which is why the game was much closer. Tokyo also turned the ball over 15 times compared to Ryukyu's 9. There's no doubt that the Kings are the much better team, but their one weakness seems to be the charity stripe - poor shooting there always allows the opponent to keep the game close.

5'6" Cohey Aoki guarded by 6'9" Jeff Newton

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed the game tonight - the unique venue, a good crowd (lots of Kings' supporters too) and a decent game. I do wish that they would can the MC who is always telling the crowd to scream "Defense" on every single opposition possession, but I understand that he's trying to get the energy level up. Still, this is good entertainment in central Tokyo and well worth a visit. All series are back-to-back doubleheaders, but they only play 2 or 4 home games per month (and some games are not in Yoyogi). So check their schedule and plan to see a game if you can.

Cohey Aoki with the running layup

They even have flyers that give you discounts on tickets - only 2,000 yen to sit where you want. I picked up a flyer, so I'll be going again next year. Hope to see you there!



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