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Rui Hachimura's fame in Japan is producing big benefits for Wizards, other members of team

Rui Hachimura's fame in Japan is producing big benefits for Wizards, other members of team

WASHINGTON -- Rui Hachimura is a big deal in his home country of Japan and the Washington Wizards are beginning to see the early returns from a business perspective.

Their corporate office took notice within 24 hours of him being drafted in June when Japanese companies started reaching out and when over 40 members of Japanese media showed up for his introductory press conference. Then, they saw the social media engagement, how highlights of his first game set a company record for video views.

That led to the creation of a Japanese wing of their digital media department, a new Twitter account catered towards Japanese fans and a sponshorship with the company NEC. Now, they have two top executives at Monumental Sports, Raul Fernandez and Jim Van Stone, flying to Japan for the second time in six weeks to negotiate more sponsorship deals.

Fernandez and Van Stone have over 20 meetings lined up over the course of a week in Tokyo.

"I think the opportunity for us to go over there and introduce our brand, the Washington Wizards, to Japan is very humbling. Rui has been a phenomenal addition," Van Stone said.

"When you look at worldwide distribution of the NBA, it just continues to grow and blossom. I think Japan is really that next big market and opportunity for us. I think Rui is going to help to really establish that."

Fernandez said the first trip to Japan was an eye-opening experience. They had seen the social media engagement numbers from content involving Hachimura, but it was different to actually go there.

"It was terrific to actually see firsthand in Tokyo the excitement, the energy and the passion and the following for Rui. Clearly, fans in Japan have been following his career in college, but as he's made this transition to the pros, as we look forward to the countdown to the Olympics, there's just an extra level," Fernandez said.

Though the Wizards have international clients, most of them are domestic. Their executives take annual trips to meet with companies in London, UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Japan, though, is a new venture for them and the league and it has the Wizards wondering how far it can go, and whether it can reach the level of other star athletes in their home countries.

"If you think about hockey and Washington, D.C. and how the Capitals came here and began to grow, really the explosion was with a star. It was Ovechkin," Fernandez said. "When people can identify, follow that journey and be part of a journey, that's when I think it becomes viral. That's what we've got with Rui Hachimura here."

Van Stone said he would like the Wizards to become the "team of Japan," not unlike the Houston Rockets and their rise in China due to Yao Ming. Ming was a sensation over a decade ago and as he rose, so did the brand of the Rockets and for individuals on the team. Some of his teammates got shoe and other endorsement deals in China because of the exposure Ming brought.

According to Fernandez and Van Stone, the one member of the Wizards besides Hachimura who has started to catch on in Japan is head coach Scott Brooks. That may be surprising, but it's something the Wizards have noticed.

"Konichiwa," Brooks said when informed. "So, when I go to the 2020 Olympics, I won't have to buy a meal?"

"Basketball in Japan, it's getting bigger right now," Hachimura said. "[Brooks] is always on the TV."


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Isaiah Thomas expected to miss several more games due to calf injury

Isaiah Thomas expected to miss several more games due to calf injury

WASHINGTON -- Isaiah Thomas has missed the Wizards' last two games with a left calf strain and it sounds like he will be out at least a little while longer.

The Wizards guard caught up with NBC Sports Washington at his holiday toy giveaway at the Boys and Girls Club in Northwest D.C. on Saturday and gave an update on how he's feeling.

"I'm good," he said. "I think I will be out a few more games and then be able to come back."

Thomas nearly played on Thursday in the Wizards' home win over the Sixers, according to head coach Scott Brooks. He pleaded with the coaching staff to play, but was advised not to as a precaution.

Thomas categorized the injury in a similar way, that the team is just playing it safe.

"I always feel like I can play, but the medical staff wants to be cautious about it, knowing it's a long season. There's a bigger picture and I'm just listening to whatever they've got to say," he said.

Thomas, 30, is enjoying a career renaissance of sorts with the Wizards. He is averaging 12.6 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 41 percent from three on 4.9 attempts per game.

With Thomas out, the Wizards have gone 1-1 with Ish Smith in his place in the starting lineup.


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Why Isaiah Thomas brings his kids to help him at charity events

Why Isaiah Thomas brings his kids to help him at charity events

WASHINGTON -- Isaiah Thomas likes to bring his sons with him just about wherever he goes. They walk with him into the Wizards' locker room, they shoot around on the court at Capital One Arena; he's even brought them to the podium for postgame interviews.

On Saturday, Thomas brought one of his sons to the Boys and Girls Club on 8th St. in Northwest Washington and for a specific reason. Thomas wanted him to help give back.

Just as Thomas was handing out toys to underprivileged youth, so was his son. The contrast was not lost on Thomas, who knows his son is well off as the kid of a millionaire NBA player. Not everyone is as fortunate.

"When I can do these types of things, I always want my kids to be around it," Thomas told NBC Sports Washington. 

"To be able to give back and see how blessed we are and how blessed he is and how we can put smiles on peoples' faces, especially around the holidays; it's definitely a point of emphasis to do that and bring my boys around to see it."

Thomas said his father instilled the same lessons in him when he was growing up in Washington state. Every Saturday morning at 6 a.m., his dad would take him to a shelter to serve breakfast to the homeless.

"That was something I was born into doing," Thomas said.

Thomas grew up going to the Boys and Girls Club himself and has partnered with them and World Vision throughout his NBA career to give back. Their efforts nationally have allowed him to continue the relationship no matter which team he has played for.

"Isaiah Thomas has been an amazing partner for World Vision," aid worker Brian Duss said. "Isaiah wasn't even in D.C. four days before he partnered with us at a school in [Southeast] to give away 400 backpacks filled with school supplies."

Before handing out toys and taking pictures with the children, Thomas addressed the crowd with a microphone. He spoke of his experience going to the Boys and Girls Club as a kid and explained the impact he hopes to make in the D.C. community.

"Whatever you need from me, I'm always here for you," he said. "I hope everyone has a happy holidays."