Play with gratitude
Nikaido : B League has started since 2016. How do you find it so far?
Tabuse : I’m really enjoying it because basketball is becoming increasingly popular now. There used to be two leagues and we were assigned to either of them so there were places where I had never played before, like Akita or Okinawa.
Nikaido : Well, basketball has always been quite popular in Okinawa where I come from. People are big fans of Ryukyu Golden Kings. I also like basketball very much; I used to subscribe to basketball magazines when I was in junior high. I must tell you I adored you.
Tabuse : Thank you very much. (Laughs) Now it’s been merged into one league so I can go and play in front of people in places where I haven’t been before. Of course, I’ve never felt content with this situation and I would like to help make basketball even more popular.
Nikaido : I have never watched a game live but I think basketball is such a dynamic and fast-paced sport.
Tabuse : Well, people who watch a game live for the first time often say that they didn’t expect basketball to involve lots of actions and be quite rough. Basketball is the fastest in pacing and quickest in changing positions between offence and defense, so I believe that anyone watching a game live will enjoy it.
Nikaido : Oh, you’ve just managed to make me feel like going to watch a game now. (Laughs) Basketball is also very exciting as a team sport, right?
Tabuse : Yes, there are smaller players like me, whereas other players are taller and truly well-built. Some are good at shooting while others prefer to play with power. Each position has its specialists so it can also be fun to find your favorite players. Of course, you can follow good-looking ones, too.
Nikaido : Yes, that’s important. (Laughs)
Tabuse : You can enjoy basketball in many ways. That is also an interesting aspect of this sport, I think.
Nikaido : In your team, LINK TOCHIGI BREX, you play with younger players, and some of them are much younger than you, like more than 10 years, right? I just wonder how you communicate with those players. Do you give detailed advice or do you just lead by example?
Tabuse : Well, if I have to choose between these two, I would say I’m a kind of person who just lead by example. Of course I do communicate and exchange ideas with team members but I’d rather express my expectation through my play, like hinting, “I won’t let you beat me! So come on!”
Nikaido : You actually demonstrate and take the lead through your own play, right? Um, you sound cool. I know you are a super star and someone to admire and look up to, not only for younger players in your team but also for all basketball players in Japan. Do you feel any pressure?
Tabuse : I am aware that I am in that kind of position. So I always bear in mind that I should be grateful and humble as not everyone would have the privilege. That makes me feel that I should take basketball sincerely and faithfully.
Pursuing my strengths
Nikaido : You have also played in the NBA league before, and I imagine that playing with world-class players may be tough and challenging. Players overseas are enormous, aren’t they?!
Tabuse : Looking back on photos, I was indeed taken aback realizing how much taller they were. (Laughs)
Nikaido : Okay, so you never think “Wow! They are huge!” or anything like that. (Laughs)
Tabuse : I suppose I’ve never paid any attention to that because I always focus on how to perform and how to compete against an opponent as a team.
Nikaido : In fact, you look much bigger in the court. Given your long career as a player, what do you think your strengths are?
Tabuse : Actually, the more I play, the more difficult, profound, and fun I find it, and I can only see my weaknesses and challenges to be tackled. I still haven’t figured out where my strengths lie. I am still searching for them.
Nikaido : Do you feel like that even now?
Tabuse : Yes. I want to keep pursuing and building my strengths as long as I am an active player. Mind you, I do love basketball more than anyone else; that I can assure you of. And I have and will put a value on that.
Nikaido : You still have the same kind of passion as when you started basketball as a kid.
Tabuse : I think it’s growing even bigger.
Nikaido : Wow, that’s impressive. Have your goals changed as you get older?
Tabuse : It’s somehow linked to what I said earlier, I’ve always found something new as I’m getting older and I’ve been enjoying new challenges, including the quality of my play or communication with team members and coaches. For instance, when a younger member stole the ball from me, I felt uneasy and wanted to improve more. Then, I reviewed how I move without the ball, or how to make the other players move, which I found interesting. And now I really enjoy studying those things.
Nikaido : But it gets harder to manage the physical condition with age, doesn’t it?
Tabuse : Yes, indeed. But I’m a kind of person who hates to say, “I can’t do it”. So compared to the younger days, I think I’ve leant the importance of body maintenance and became able to consider how to keep the best condition in order to deliver the best performance.
Nikaido : I bet this mindset must influence your everyday life too.
Tabuse : That’s right. I try to be attentive to everything, even to details like how to sit properly and others.
Nikaido : Well, I’ve just adjusted my posture now. (Laughs)
Tabuse : Use inner core muscles, pull your chin and relax the shoulders for the best posture. These things can be reflected into basketball. If you get on my car, you will be surprised. People often recline the seat, right? But I don’t.
Nikaido : Ah, you sit up straight! (Laughs) 90 degree vertical!
Tabuse : This is simply the result of my eagerness to perform well in a game, win a game as a team, that’s all. And if you do take it seriously, you’ll reach a certain point where you study everything including how to sit and other things. I never find it troublesome.
Nikaido : If I sit using the inner core muscles, will I be able to play basketball a little better? (Laughs) I’m really hopeless. From your talk today, I’ve leant that you devote so much time to basketball. And that seems increasing.
Tabuse : Yes, it is increasing.
Tabuse : Many people who know me often say that I’m a geek. But these days, I’m sensing that they’ve somehow given up on me, I can hear them say things like, “Nothing we can do. That’s the way he is.” (Laughs) But it’s okay to me. I do everything for the sake of basketball. No one forced me, or anything like that, and everything is driven by my thought, “I like basketball”.
Never end because I like it
Nikaido : Isn’t it wonderful you have something you really like to such a degree? Have you ever wanted to quit?
Tabuse : No.
Nikaido : Not even once?
Tabuse : Never. Of course, I found it tough when I had to go through hard training, but at the same time, I also feel lucky to have had such experience. Since my career in basketball is getting close to an end, I have realized how lucky I am to have been able to play basketball for such a long time, and I want to play as long as possible.
Nikaido : I’d love to see you playing in the league now and in the future. You are a legend of Japanese basketball.
Tabuse : Legendary players are very encouraging and I do admire them, like a football player Kazuyoshi Miura, and Ichiro of baseball. In basketball, Takehiko Orimo, who is 46 years old and is still an active player, once said that there was no reason to quit basketball, responding to my question. I think this is proof that things are as simple as that. If you like playing basketball and you are physically fully capable of doing it, then you’ll have no reason to quit.
Nikaido : If you have pursued something that far, things may get simpler and simpler. Tokyo Olympics is in three years. What are your plans?
Tabuse : In 2020, I will be 40 so I think Tokyo Olympics is a very good target for me to challenge. It would be great to have the best performance at the age of 40 and excite everyone.
Nikaido : That’s fantastic!
Tabuse : There have been more games since B League started, so I have to look after myself very carefully. But of course I always want to take the challenge if there is a chance, and I want to be a player with many more active years ahead.