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Tabuse Yuta Becomes First Japanese Player in the NBA (November 24, 2004)

Tabuse Yuta
Tabuse in action (Jiji)
Standing just 173 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall, Tabuse Yuta, 24, became the first-ever Japanese player in the National Basketball Association, said by many to be the most competitive sports league in the world, when he earned a spot on the Phoenix Suns' final roster of 12 players as the NBA season started. In doing so, Tabuse accomplished what many had believed to be an unlikely dream for a Japanese. When he set foot on the court with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Suns' season opener on November 3, Japanese fans were thrilled to watch Tabuse record his first field goal and first assist in short order.

A Two-Year Challenge
Tabuse first made his attempt to break into the NBA in 2003, when he made the preseason roster of the Denver Nuggets. Though he played in the preseason games, his dream was put on hold when he was cut from the final roster ahead of the opening of the regular season. Tabuse decided to keep at it, and he joined the Long Beach Jam of the minor league American Basketball Association, playing with former NBA rebound champion Dennis Rodman and others. He then signed a contract with the Suns in September 2004. He appeared in four preseason games as the team's third point guard, bringing his NBA dreams one step closer to fruition. Tabuse, who wears the number 1 on his jersey, explains, "This has been a dream of mine since I was little. I want to do my best to make it into the regular season and get a spot on the bench."

Two days after Tabuse earned a spot on the Suns' final roster, the team had its opening game in Phoenix, and one of the satellite channels of the Japan Broadcasting Corp. showed the game live. With 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and his parents watching from the stands, Tabuse entered the game, and the speedy point guard was able to move the ball down the court at will, darting between players much taller than him. Tabuse finished with seven points - including a three-pointer - and an assist, giving him an impressive stat line in his debut. After the game he stated, "Japan has been wracked by earthquakes recently, and I just wanted to get onto the court and give courage to the Japanese people."

Born to Run the Court
Tabuse took up basketball when he was a second-grade elementary school student. When he was in middle school in Yokohama, he took his team to the final four in the national tournament and was immediately recognized as a major talent. He then went on to attend Akita Prefecture's Noshiro Technical High School, which is renowned as a basketball power. With his extraordinary passing ability and his deceptively agile movement, Tabuse earned a spot on the starting roster even as a first-year student. For three consecutive years, Tabuse led his school to the three major titles of Japanese high school basketball - the Interscholastic Athletic Meet, the National Athletic Meet, and the All-Japan High School Championship. Upon graduation, he enrolled in Brigham Young University Hawaii.

After playing college basketball in the United States for three years, Tabuse cut short his studies and came back to Japan to become an employee of Toyota Motor Corp. and join Toyota Alvark of the Japanese Basketball Super League, where he won the rookie-of-the-year award. Tabuse had watched his father's videos of NBA games since he was young, however, and the dream of playing there continued to burn within him. He quit Toyota after one year and went back to the United States to pursue his dream.

A Basketball Pioneer
Commenting on his new teammate's style of play, Suns' starting point guard Steve Nash said, "I can tell that he's trying to do something when he's out there, and it's fun just to watch him from the bench." Head coach Mike D'Antoni praised Tabuse, saying, "He's got fighting spirit, and he's the kind of guy who can change the tempo of a game."

Tabuse is the second-shortest player in the NBA, and it is unclear how much playing time he will get in his rookie season. In 1995 pitcher Nomo Hideo became the first Japanese player in the US Major Leagues, leading many others to follow in the ensuing years, and many Japanese are hoping that Tabuse can play a similar role as a basketball pioneer.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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