Thursday, January 20, 2011

Takamatsu Five Arrows 78 at Tokyo Apache 79 (OT) - January 19, 2011

Yeah, yeah, I said I wasn't going to post for every game I go to. But last night's bj League contest between the Tokyo Apache and the Takamatsu Five Arrows was interesting in a number of different ways, so I figure I'll indulge myself just this once.

New Owners

The Apache were purchased by L.A.-based Evolution Capital Management during the off-season and I was interested to see what changes they would make to the product. One of the most important decisions they made was to play all home games at the Yoyogi #2 gymnasium. However, their contract with the facility didn't start until 2011, so the Apache spent the first 3 months of the season playing on the road. This didn't seem to affect attendance as the team averaged around 1,400 fans in their first four home games in early January, similar to numbers last year.

The Apache also hired a new bench boss, Bob Hill, who brings 8 years of NBA coaching experience to the team, including a couple of years with San Antonio, where he preceded Gregg Popovich.

There were a few new faces in the lineup too, most notably Jeremy Tyler (above), a projected 2nd-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Tyler skipped his senior year of high school and has no college experience, so he is quite raw and doesn't see much floor time because of it.

One-time Seattle Super Sonic Robert Swift (above) is playing center while Byron "Always" Eaton has found his way to the bj League after falling out of the NBDL last season. Eaton has had weight problems throughout his career and is certainly on the heavier side now. That's him chasing the loose ball below.

A new addition is the Tokyo Girls, a mixed Japanese/American group of dancers who perform during timeouts and toss T-shirts to the crowd, much like you would see in a basketball game back home. Speaking of back home, you might have noticed the team colours are similar to the Los Angeles Lakers. They wore purple on this night, but they also have a gold uniform too.

Tickets are now 3,000 yen (compared to 2,800 yen last year) and you can sit anywhere on the 2nd floor (the dark seats in the picture below). For big spenders, there is a 10,000 yen option called the Premier Package which allows you to sit slightly closer (the orange seats below) and comes with a pre-game buffet as well as snacks during the game. There are also courtside seats but I couldn't determine how much those were.

Last season they handed out flyers which had discount coupons for future games (knocking the price down to 2,000 yen), but those have disappeared unfortunately.

During the game, announcements for baskets, fouls, and substitutions were made in English only. It really doesn't matter as it's mostly player names anyway, but I was interested to see that there were a large number of foreigners in attendance, particularly in the courtside seats. Out of the 799 fans, I'd say around 100 were non-Japanese, a surprisingly high number and many more than I saw at the games last year. I'm guessing that the Apache have really made an effort to market themselves to foreign firms here, but I wonder if they have done so at the expense of selling to the locals.

During the game, there were the usual lame attempts to get the crowd to shout "Dee-Fense" or "Let's Go Tokyo!" but with so few fans, it didn't really take. Personally I hate canned cheering; you should cheer depending on the game context and not because someone tells you what to say. Unfortunately Japanese fans prefer to be part of a group and blindly follow what everyone else does. The rules seem to demand constant noise as fans scream the same thing regardless of the action on the floor. Really, do we need to yell "Dee-Fense" on every single opposition possession? How about watching the game instead?

The Game

This was the second of back-to-back battles for these two teams with Tokyo winning the opener 85-72 to push themselves to an 11-8 record while Takamatsu fell to a league-worst 6-19.

The Five Arrows had one significant disadvantage, dressing only 8 players to the Apache's 13. So although Takamatsu took a 19-point lead early in the 2nd quarter, Tokyo chipped away, reaching halftime down 44-34. The third quarter was an abysmal display of shooting by both teams with Tokyo outscoring the visibly tiring Takamatsu team 15-10 to draw within 5.

Kendall Dartez

The fourth quarter saw the Apache nudging ever closer and they finally took the lead with just 1:36 left when Cohey Aoki drained a 3-pointer to make it 65-64. But Takamatsu fought back and grabbed the lead again, forcing Tokyo to foul as the clock wound down. Makoto Kita sank two free throws to make it 72-69 with just 3 seconds left and it looked like the Apache comeback would be for nought. But Eaton surprised everybody by taking a pass from Michael Chappell and launching a three-point prayer which was answered at the buzzer, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the game to overtime.

Although Takamatsu scored the first four points of the extra session, Tokyo scored the next 7, including a critical 3-pointer from Junpei Nakama that made it 79-76 with 33 seconds to go. After Takamatsu missed a three of their own, Tokyo killed about 20 seconds just tossing it around to avoid the foul, but they didn't take a shot and Takamatsu took possession when Kita stole the ball. He was fouled with just six seconds left and drained both shots to make it a one-point contest.

This is where things got strange. Tokyo inbounded the ball and Nakama was quickly fouled. In the bj League, the 1-and-1 rule is still applied, which means that you have to sink your first free throw to get your second. But Nakama missed his first and the Five Arrows took over with a final shot to win the game. After a quick timeout, Kita inbounded the ball, appearing to try for an alley-oop with Jeffrey Price on the receiving end. But amazingly the pass went directly into the basket without being touched. You can't score in this manner and although Price argued he tipped the ball (liar!) the referee was adamant and correctly ruled the play as a turnover. In the ensuing confusion, Tokyo inbounded the ball and ran out the clock to clinch the win, a thrilling comeback to mark the end of the first half of the season.

The Verdict

This was a fun game witnessed by far too few fans, sadly a common situation in the bj League. I'm not sure why the Apache can't draw more people to their games, but Ed Odeven of the Japan Times writes about the issue in a recent column. Check out the "Closing Commentary" at the bottom of the link. He mentions the fan base being alienated; I'm curious how that transpired over 5 years, but there's no doubt that the league is in trouble in Tokyo.

For me, I found the experience a bit too loud with booming music playing during every timeout and the announcer shouting all the time. That will keep me away more often than I'd like. Yeah, I'm old.

In the bigger picture, there are 18 home games left this season so the Apache still have time to get things going and attract more fans. They're an entertaining team but they have to get known in the community. A return to discount coupons for repeat visitors might help, or perhaps a 2-for-1 pack for the back-to-back games (i.e. buy the first game and we'll give you a freebie to the next day's game). There are doubtless other marketing ideas, let's hope the Apache can be creative and make basketball a success in Tokyo.




  1. Great summary! We need more fans attending bj-league games, but that won't happen until those working within the league understand WHY more fans aren't attending games.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I can see why fans don't attend in other places where the team uses a variety of different gyms as their home venue, but I don't know why Apache fans are not coming out more.

  3. General admission tickets (3,000 yen) at Yoyogi for Apache games cost roughly the price of two movie tickets in Tokyo. That seems a bit expensive, even for hard-core hoop fans. Again:The league is only hurting itself by not having a national marketing campaign and ticket sales campaign, i.e. all seats for 1,000 yen, or buy one get one free to start creating a buzz on a national scale.

  4. In addition, of the final 18 regular-season home games for the Apache, 16 of them were slated for weekdays. In any pro league, in any big city, this is a recipe for disaster. Sure, the team's small staff may be working hard, but it also has to work smart. This is beyond stupid. The league, too, should never have allowed this schedule to be OKd. It makes both the team and the league look like amateurs.

  5. Thanks again. I noticed that there is no mention of the Apache in the Metropolis Events section, but JBL games are listed. I see how the league and team are missing the basics to begin with.