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Basketball star Hachimura talks diversity, challenges with Japan Sports Agency chief

Rui Hachimura is seen holding a basketball in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on July 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- Rui Hachimura, the rising Japanese basketball star who currently plays for the American professional basketball team Washington Wizards in the NBA, sat down with Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Daichi Suzuki for a special interview arranged by the Mainichi Shimbun.

On July 24, marking exactly one year until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 21-year-old Hachimura visited Suzuki, 52, at the Japan Sports Agency in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.

On advances in the promotion of diversity in the sports industry through performances of other Japanese athletes like him who have mixed heritage, Hachimura said he was determined "to also become an athlete who can compete on the global stage and lead Japanese sport."

Amid Japan's sporting success this year, 21-year-old Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian, won her second Grand Slam tournament in a row at the Australian Open in January. Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, 20, whose father is Ghanaian, set a Japanese record with a time of 9.97 seconds in the men's 100 meters in June.

Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Daichi Suzuki is seen in conversation with Rui Hachimura in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on July 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

Also in that month, Hachimura, who was born in the central Japan city of Toyama to a Beninese father and a Japanese mother, became the first Japanese player ever to be selected in the opening round of an NBA draft.

"They are competing on the world stage and leading Japan's sports industry," Suzuki said, praising the athletes' efforts.

As the topic developed into a discussion of identity and diversity, Hachimura's words became more impassioned. "I inherited a privileged body from my father and the diligence to keep making efforts from my mother," said Hachimura, explaining that he is now able to accept what he was born with.

When Hachimura was a child however, he felt too self-conscious about his differences from those around him and "even tried to hide from the rest of the world." After graduating from high school, he went to the U.S. It was his experience playing with athletes from a variety of backgrounds in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I at Gonzaga University that changed his perspective.

Rui Hachimura is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on July 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

He said he came to realize that "the time in which one has to feel embarrassed about being different from others is already over." He commented, "I think there are many athletes of mixed heritage now playing basketball after watching me play. I want them to take on a bunch of different challenges," he said.

Suzuki supported Hachimura's views, saying, "He's brought us a great, strong message. We can't have a society where people feel like they need to hide (their differences)."

Hachimura has been chosen as a candidate to play for Japan's national team -- set to make an appearance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China on Aug. 31 for the first time in 13 years and next year's summer Olympics, which will mark a return for the Japanese men's basketball team after an absence of 44 years.

"Baseball, soccer and rugby (players) are competing on the world stage and I believe there's no reason why we can't do the same with basketball," said Hachimura.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Asatsuma and Yuta Kobayashi, Sports News Department)

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