Rui Hachimura had missed the Wizards' first 39 games this season due to personal reasons and for months had taken only incremental steps towards making his debut. He had been so close to returning he even sat on the bench in full uniform for several games.
But it wasn't until Sunday night in Orlando that he finally took the floor for the first time to begin his third NBA season. Hachimura told head coach Wes Unseld Jr. earlier in the day, that after a months-long wait, he was ready to go.
"I don't know, I just felt good," Hachimura said after the 102-100 win over the Magic.
As for why this was the right game, Hachimura cited a few different reasons. He played 3-on-3 the day before in practice and liked the way it went. He also said the warm Florida weather helped ease his mind.
The reason why he needed the conditions to be right is because Hachimura has been dealing with sensitive personal matters. He didn't go into great detail on Sunday, at one point saying he didn't want to talk about it.
What he did say is that he needed a break from basketball.
"I've been playing basketball since I was 13, it was non-stop. I don't know, it's kind of hard to explain. In Japan, we don't have a season in basketball. We just basketball all year. It's different. I never got off or anything and think about even in college, I was playing for the national team in the summer. I was playing basketball. This season, too, after the season I went back to Japan and played for the national team [in the Olympics]. It's been tough," he said.
Hachimura expressed gratitude for the support he has received from Wizards players, coaches and executives while taking time off. He mentioned team chairman Ted Leonsis in that group.
When asked if he is doing better now, Hachimura said he feels "fine." He said it helped to be back out on the court with his teammates.
"Us as a team, we felt great to have him back," Bradley Beal said. "We welcomed him with open arms. We're happy he did it within his time."
Hachimura had six points and three rebounds in 14 minutes on Sunday night. He shot 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from three.
The ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Hachimura came off the bench for the first time in his career and played well below his career average of 30.9 minutes per game. It was a rather quick outing by his standards, as the Wizards try to ease him back in after so much time off.
Now that Hachimura is back, he will aim to get up to speed with about a half-season to go. The Wizards could use his scoring and defensive versatility, as they have battled inconsistency en route to a 20-20 record on the year. Last season, he averaged 13.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 57 games.
Hachimura has now taken an important step towards re-establishing himself as one of their key rotation players.
"It was great. I've been waiting for this moment. I had to take a little time off, but I'm so happy to be back on the court and playing with these guys. I missed the feeling," he said.