Who says the Japanese aren’t progressive. Well, a lot of people, but at least they seem to be trying.
The Professional Basketball Japan League (also known as the BJ League – really... that's what it is known as - SEE - Did Japan not get that?) has hired an American woman to be its first female coach.
Natalie Nakase, a former member of the UCLA Bruins woman’s team, was hired by the Saitama Broncos in November of 2011. The 31-year-old native of Los Angeles knows her appointment is more than just winning games – it’s about sexual equality.
Says Nakase: “I get a lot of attention for being the first woman in coaching. I'm starting to realize the responsibility I have of giving women a chance, not only in basketball, but in the corporate world as well."
She was hired after the previous coach – American Dean Murray was fired over a violation of his contract 12 games into the season. Japan – It’s A Wonderful Rife does not know the full extent of that dismissal, but Coach Murray’s loss is Coach Nakase’s gain.
Nakasae is used to long odds. At 5’-2” (157 cm) in height, she was barely recruited out of high school but through will, determination and some awesome skills, she became an All-Conference point guard with the UCLA Bruins and parlayed that into becoming the first Asian-American player in the defunct professional National Women's Basketball League for San Diego and San Jose.
Nakase went to Japan in 2010 to visit her friend Darin Maki and his wife. Maki is a Japanese-American who was playing for the BJ League’s Tokyo Apache (played college ball at Cal State Dominguez Hills).
After Maki introduced Nakase to Apache coach Bob Hill, she was invited by the coach to come and attend practices.
FYI: Hill has served as the head coach of the NBA's New York Knicks (1986-87), Indiana Pacers (1990-93), San Antonio Spurs (1994-96) and Seattle SuperSonics (2006-07), with a NBA coaching record of 310-293, including the Spurs 62-20 record in 1994-95. Hill’s college career also includes stops at Fordham University (head coach, 1999-2003) and was an assistant for the Kansas Jayhawks (1979-85). He played college ball at Bowling Green.
Hill says of Nakase, “She started coming every day. She always got there early, which I loved."
Hill eventually asked team management to hire her as part of the coaching staff: from rebounding during shooting drills to scouting opponents.
When the Apache folded at the end of the 2010-2011 season, Hill urged Saitama's head coach, Dean Murray, to hire her as an assistant.
Despite her Japanese heritage, Nakase is a third-generation American, and as such found that gender bias was easier to overcome than her unfamiliarity with Japan, as she had zero working knowledge of the Japanese language.
Now if she can only get her team to win more often. The Saitama Broncos, sit 9th out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference with a 10-25 record. The Western Conference has nine teams.
Files compiled by Andrew Joseph