By TIM REYNOLDS – AP Basketball Author
Stephen Curry returns to Japan, Rui Hachimura goes home and the NBA plans another step towards normality.
The NBA announced Monday night that Golden State and Washington will travel to Saitama, Japan for the first two games of the 2022 preseason. The Warriors and Wizards will play there on September 30th and October 2nd.
These are the first games for the NBA outside of North America since Jan. 24, 2020, when Milwaukee and Charlotte met in Paris for a regular-season game about six weeks before the global pandemic began.
The last time the NBA went overseas for preseason competitions was in October 2019, when Sacramento and Indiana played twice in Mumbai, Houston and Toronto played twice in Saitama, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn played two games in China.
The league has struck a deal to bring games to Abu Dhabi for the first time this fall as well, but has yet to officially announce which teams will be traveling there for pre-season games.
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“We have had the pleasure of forging many impactful relationships across Japan, and some of our players, including Stephen Curry, have thoroughly enjoyed recent visits to Tokyo and the interactions they have shared with basketball fans who love the game,” said Warriors CEO and Co-Executive Chairman Joe Lacob.
The announcement came on Tuesday in Tokyo – Monday night in the US – and probably not coincidentally, just before a Warriors-Wizards game began.
Curry’s popularity in Japan is off the charts, and he’s been there twice on off-season promotional tours. Hachimura is the first Japanese player to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft.
“I was just amazed at the passion for the game, the energy around the game, how many people are watching, how many people are playing and just the culture around basketball – and the way the Japanese people express their creativity and culture really showing through the game,” said Curry.
Games overseas had become an annual event for the NBA before the pandemic, and commissioner Adam Silver said it was a big step for the league to put such games back on the calendar.
“For our teams to resume international travel is a sign that we are returning to a more normal way of life,” Silver said.
It will also be a little sentimental trip for Warriors coach Steve Kerr and forward Draymond Green. Kerr was an assistant and Green played basketball for USA at the Tokyo Olympics last summer when the Americans defeated France for the gold medal in the same arena where the preseason games will be held.
“Very popular teams will come to Japan,” said Mickey Mikitani, the chairman and CEO of Rakuten, which will present the games and also has sponsorship deals with the Warriors and Curry. “It will be a historic opportunity. .. . It’s really a dream match.”
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