Today, the sport of basketball has become the glue that ties the Japanese American community together. No other current activity or local community event has the ability to bring together more Japanese Americans than basketball. On practically every weekend of the year, families are hustling their kids over to basketball gyms all over town, and weekdays are often given over to basketball practice. In Southern California alone, an estimated 14,000 children play in Japanese American basketball leagues and tournaments.
However, Japanese American basketball is now at a crossroads. Although the leagues and tournaments are as popular as ever, they are becoming more like mainstream “club” basketball, where the focus is on winning and competition rather than community building and friendship. Many involved in today’s Japanese American basketball leagues have lost focus on what makes Japanese American basketball unique: namely, its foundation based on Japanese American cultural values.
Japanese American culture has historically promoted the group over the individual, praised hard work and self-sacrifice, encouraged respect for others, and emphasized the ideal that doing one’s best is more important than winning. However, in today’s leagues, the desire to win has pushed aside these values and now deprives our youth of valuable cultural and character learning opportunities.
The goal of the Nikkei Basketball Heritage Association (NBHA) is to educate everyone involved in the leagues on the importance of these cultural values as the foundation of present and future Japanese American basketball. To this end, NBHA has designed a new cultural values framework diagram to visually display all of the cultural values in an easy to understand graphic. This values framework will serve as the foundation of NBHA’s coaching education program and future NBHA programs.
These cultural values are the reasons why Japanese American basketball is unique in an era in which winning games has become the primary goal for everyone. Japanese American basketball will not just help kids and adult players become better at basketball skills but will also, and more importantly, help them to become better people in preparation for their future schooling, careers, and life.
NBHA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to secure and perpetuate the foundational cultural values and traditions of the Japanese American community basketball leagues in Southern California. NBHA’s mission is to provide leadership development and education of the cultural history of Nikkei values and community. NBHA plans to accurately document Japanese American basketball history through our oral history project and production of documentaries.