Yuta Watanabe, Japan’s most popular basketball player, took to Players Tribune in his home country Friday to thank his Raptors fans for their two years of loyalty but also to talk about how much he appreciates Brooklyn ... and how much of his basketball history is centered in the borough.
From two Atlantic 10 conference tournaments at Barclays in 2015 and 2016, then tryouts with the Nets at their new training facility in Industry City in 2018, a stint months later on the Nets Summer League team and now in 2022 a roster spot — his first on any of his five Opening Nights in the league — Brooklyn is his basketball home.
And now I’ll be playing in the city again.
In late August I’d already signed a contract with the team, but it was only a camp contract, not a full contract. With players being cut one by one, there was no guarantee that I’d survive until the start of the season.
I’ve played in the NBA for four seasons, but only ever on a camp contract. I honestly thought, Oh, is this all I’m capable of? I was frustrated with myself, not with the team.
Having never been on an opening day roster through five seasons, I’ve always felt like I’ve been hanging on the edge of a cliff. And I had to survive the camp first, otherwise there was no next step.
His timing in publishing the piece now is excellent. The story authored by Watanabe and translated here comes out the same day, Tokyo time, that the Nets play the Raps.
Watanabe admitted his training camp this summer had its ups and downs with injury keeping him off the courts at HSS Training Center. There were times, he said, that he would go days without practicing.
Then, just before the season opener, I was officially told by general manager Sean Marks that I’d been selected as one of the 15 players on the opening day roster. I thanked him for the opportunity.
He told me, “Yuta, you earned it.”
For him, NBA things are no different. He has to survive again.
With the season already started and my contract not guaranteed, I’m still hanging on the edge — even though I’m on the roster. So I’m determined not to waste a single second and keep fighting my way through this season.
In other words, so far, so good. Watanabe and his wife, Japanese TV presenter Akiko Kuji, seem comfortably ensconced in Brooklyn and, apparently DUMBO, the neighborhood under the Manhattan Bridge, is his favorite.
I particularly love the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn. I go there to eat or just walk around when I need a break. It’s sandwiched between two beautiful bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, with a view of Manhattan just across the river. The redeveloped cobblestone and red-brick buildings give the area a great vibe.
Although he loved his time in Toronto, he told his fans, he’s all about Brooklyn now, echoing his tweet earlier this week when told them their loyalties should belong with his new team. He also predicted how the Raptors will play the Nets on Friday night.
From now on the Raptors are our opponents. Even though they’re my former teammates and they know me, when it comes to the game I can’t hold back and will play to win. The Nets have some of the best scorers in the NBA, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and I am guessing that the Raptors will play a special defense against them. I can’t say for sure, but when I played against the Nets last season, I played a special defense against them too. The Raptors change their tactics a lot during a game, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll try and I’ll do my best to beat them.
Part of his pride, Watanabe writes, is about being a player from Japan, one of the few Asian players to ever make the biggest stage. But he looks at things from a broader perspective.
There’s something I always try and remember on my journey:
Only 450 people in the whole entire world play in the NBA, the pinnacle of basketball.
With a global pool of 450 million basketball players, 450 people is only 0.0001% of that.
Don’t want to lose that distinction.