Wizards

Quick Links

Forging his own path, Rui Hachimura embraces quest to become the face of Japanese athletes

Forging his own path, Rui Hachimura embraces quest to become the face of Japanese athletes

LAS VEGAS — There is no shortage of stars at the Las Vegas Summer League, ones that migrate packs of media and change the tenor of the room when they enter at Thomas and Mack Center or Cox Pavilion to watch a game. Then there is Rui Hachimura, who among everyone there, has quite easily the most reporters assigned only to him.

Dozens of Japanese media members made the trip to Las Vegas to document his first games as a professional. All of them represent national networks and outlets. They are the Japanese equivalents of ESPN, CNN and NBC and Hachimura routinely makes their nightly news.

Hachimura is drawing major interest back in his home country as he continues to blaze trails as a Japanese basketball player. He is the first Japanese player to be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft and is well on his way to becoming the best from his country to ever play the sport.

"I would say Rui is No. 1 [most famous athlete in Japan]," Kohei Kosaka of Nippon TV said. "Our station has his news almost every day, everything he does. All of the day in our station, all of the news shows are about Rui."

Kosaka said the most famous athletes ever from Japan are Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, but Hachimura is a good bet to pass them. Getting drafted in the first round "changed everything," according to Kosaka.

That fame has given Hachimura a significant platform. In addition to his fans in the U.S., he will have Japan, a country of 180 million people, behind him. That means a lot of children looking towards the example he sets.

Hachimura has a large responsibility and is embracing it.

"I want to be the face of athletes in Japan. I want to be the guy," Hachimura told NBC Sports Washington. "When you think about athletes in Japan, I want people to think it's me. I have a bigger goal. I'm doing it for my family."

Hachimura's family background is unique. His father is from Benin. His mother is from Japan. As he described in his introductory press conference, he considers himself "black," but with "a Japanese soul."

He says his racial identity has made it hard to adjust to new environments in the past. It made him stand out growing up in Japan and then as a college student at Gonzaga University.

Hachimura wants kids growing up now in similar shoes to follow his lead.

"Right now there are a lot of half kids. It's called hāfu, like mixed kids. They are black and Japanese. There are a lot of kids like that in Japan," he said.

"I know for sure they are watching me playing. I just want to encourage and inspire them by watching me playing. I am doing it for those kinds of kids."

Hachimura can also plant the seeds for a new generation of Japanese basketball players. Like many kids where he's from, he grew up playing baseball, and loved it, before switching to basketball at 13.

Five years later, he was on the campus of Gonzaga beginning what would be a decorated three-year career. He was playing for legendary head coach Mark Few and learning moves from NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton at practice.

Now Hachimura has a chance to show what a Japanese player is capable of in the NBA. When he debuts, he will be only the third NBA player from the country, but will right away have the most prominent role any of them have ever had.

Basketball is such a global sport now that international players swept the NBA's major postseason player awards, including MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo), Defensive Player of the Year (Rudy Gobert), Rookie of the Year (Luka Doncic) and Most Improved (Pascal Siakam). Players come from all different countries, some with differences in their game that reflect where they are from.

Hachimura said his background will show in his demeanor on the floor.

"No emotion. I have to be calm with whatever happens. Sometimes maybe we are losing, but I have to be calm that we are coming back," he said.

"I have to be patient and that comes from my Japanese culture. We are patient and just work little by little."

Hachimura is used to charting his own path, and he embraces leading the way.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS

Quick Links

Jordan McRae feels more comfortable ahead of Year 2 in Washington

Jordan McRae feels more comfortable ahead of Year 2 in Washington

WASHINGTON -- Wizards guard Jordan McRae made his way around the parish hall of St. Francis Xavier in Southeast Washington slowly, stopping to greet kids one-by-one and bending his 6-foot-7 frame down to take pictures and shake hands. He handed out bags of school supplies to underprivileged youth that said 'work hard, play hard.' He told them each "good luck in school."

It was a day McRae got to do something he feels like he could have done more of last year. He was giving back to the D.C. community and helping out with a cause he believes in. Last season, when he played through the uncertainty of a two-way contract, he didn't have a real chance to lay down roots in the Washington area.

But now back for a second year with the Wizards, and with an NBA contract and a possible rotation spot to seize, McRae feels a new sense of comfort in D.C. Though he has been in town for a year, now it is home.

"Since being in the NBA, this is probably the best opportunity I've gotten," he told NBC Sports Washington.

"Last year, it was tough. It was different from what I've been through before, just the unknown. Not knowing was the hardest part."

McRae, 28, came to the Wizards last summer after rehabbing a shoulder injury and playing overseas. But he had two years of NBA experience under his belt, including a championship ring from the 2015-16 season with the Cavaliers.

At the time, a two-way contract made sense for McRae. He had to prove he was healthy and needed a team to take a flier on him. The Wizards did, but they couldn't offer McRae much of an opportunity to play. They were entering another year with high expectations and had loaded up on veteran players in the offseason.

Things, of course, didn't go as planned for the Wizards but McRae didn't exactly benefit from the turmoil and roster turnover. He spent much of his time in the G-League, appearing in more games with the Go-Go (31) than he did with the Wizards (27). 

That was partly because late in the season McRae was close to maxing out the 45 days his two-way contract allowed him to spend at the NBA level. The Wizards had financial incentive to keep him in the G-League and in the final weeks of the season, when the two-way clock was no longer an issue, he suffered an Achilles strain that ended his season a few days early.

McRae felt like he showed the Wizards what he is capable of in his relatively brief time on the floor, but is looking forward to a more extended opportunity this season. 

"I'm a person who can play multiple spots. I can be on the court with Brad [Beal] or without Brad," McRae said. 

"I'm just looking forward to it. The opportunity is there. This is what you work for all summer, this type of opportunity."

There could be an opening for McRae at back-up shooting guard. The Wizards didn't address that position specifically this offseason like they did a year ago by trading for Austin Rivers. McRae may be their best option behind Beal.

It also may be the ideal spot for McRae, whose best attribute is scoring. He led the G-League last season with 30.3 points per game and showed some flashes at the NBA level as well. He scored 20 points or more twice and dropped 15 points in eight minutes against the Cavs on Jan. 29 when the Wizards nearly stole a victory after the benches were emptied in a lopsided game.

McRae can get buckets quickly. He can also play some point guard, which should come in handy this season as the Wizards play without All-Star John Wall for at least several months. They are also resting hopes on Isaiah Thomas as one of their top two point guards and he only played 12 games last season.

The Wizards' roster is in transition and it may not yield many wins in the 2019-20 season. The Westgate sportsbook set their over/under at 28.5 wins. That is about 10 short of playoff contention, even in down years in the lesser Eastern Conference.

It could work out well for McRae, though, as he could get much more playing time. He is excited about that possibility and also the style shift they hope to undergo as dictated by managing partner Ted Leonsis and general manager Tommy Sheppard.

"We're gonna be young and obviously we have to change up our style," McRae said. "We want to be one of those teams where teams don't want to play, a team that you know they're diving for loose balls, playing hard and playing fast."

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Two-time Wizard, three-time NBA champion announces retirement after 15 seasons

Two-time Wizard, three-time NBA champion announces retirement after 15 seasons

Former Wizards' guard Shaun Livingston announced his retirement from the NBA after 15 seasons on Friday morning.  

The former Wizard shared the news via Twitter and Instagram posts. 

Livingston expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to play in the league. 

“After 15 years in the NBA, I’m excited, sad, fortunate and grateful all in one breath. Hard to put into a caption all of the emotions it takes to try and accomplish your dreams. I wasn’t supposed to be here. Anybody that has beat the odds understands the mental and emotional strain it takes to inspire yourself on an uphill war, let alone inspire others. “The injury” gave me a chance to find and prove to myself (and the world) that I wouldn’t be defined by my circumstances. With my time in the League what I will be most proud of is the fact that my character, values, and faith were tested, and I persevered.” 

View this post on Instagram

After 15 years in the NBA, I’m excited, sad, fortunate and grateful all in one breath. Hard to put into a caption all of the emotions it takes to try and accomplish your dreams. I wasn’t supposed to be here. Anybody that has beat the odds understands the mental and emotional strain it takes to inspire yourself on an uphill war, let alone inspire others. “The injury” gave me a chance to find and prove to myself (and the world) that I wouldn’t be defined by my circumstances. With my time in the League what I will be most proud of is the fact that my character, values and faith were tested, and I persevered. To my pops that told me to “go get the big ball” I THANK YOU. To my Grandpa that always showed me there was more to life than basketball I THANK YOU. To my Uncles that helped raise me like I was one of their own, THANK YOU. To my wife and kids...the future IS BRIGHTER than our past, and I couldn’t see myself taking on this chapter without you. To all of my teammates, coaches, TRAINERS, staff, my journey is a collection of experiences, and those of you that helped me along the way, THANK YOU! To all the fans and anybody else that inspired me, supported me, cheered for me, or even said good words about me, THANK YOU. “The greatest gift we can give is service to others” #Raiseaglass 🍷

A post shared by Shaun Livingston (@sdot1414) on

Livingston entered the league right out of high school. He was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. 

In 2007, as a member of the Clippers, he suffered a horrific knee injury, one of the most grotesque in NBA history. He returned a year and a half later, as a member of the Miami Heat but played in just four games.

He played for the Wizards on two separate occasions.

The first was in 2010 when he joined the Wizards in February and played in 26 games, starting 18. He signed a two-year deal with the Charlotte Bobcats that offseason, playing in 72 games in 2010-11 before being traded that offseason to the Milwaukee Bucks. A year later, he was traded to the Houston Rockets, but was waived before the start of the 2012-2013 season.

The second time was in November 2012, when the Wizards signed Livingston again, playing in 17 games and starting four before being waived in December of that year.

Livingston made five straight NBA Finals appearances and won three championships with the Warriors (2014-2019). 

Over 833 career games, Livingston averaged 6.3 points, 3 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game.  

Wizards star, Bradley Beal shared his support for Livingston commenting “S Dot! It was a pleasure my guy!” 

Congratulations to Livingston on a successful career and good luck on his future endeavors! 

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: