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Japan plans basketball expansion after quake

Updated: 2011-05-05 08:59
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TOKYO - Japan's professional basketball league has bold plans for expansion rather than mere damage limitation despite being plunged into chaos by the deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

With the two worst-hit teams in danger of collapse, Basketball Japan League Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said the push to increase the number of clubs from 16 to 20 would continue at full pace.

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The Sendai 89ers, the team based closest to the devastating 9.0 magnitude quake, and the Saitama Broncos have had players sent out on loan after being forced to scrap their seasons.

"There is a risk (of bankruptcy) for Sendai, or that both teams will be unable to play next season," Kawachi said in an interview.

"We are doing everything we can to have them among the expanded league of 20 teams in October for 2011-12 in terms of reducing further financial burden on them from the disaster."

Tokyo Apache also halted operations as a result of the quake and giant tsunami, which triggered a nuclear crisis after smashing into a plant 150 miles north of Japan's capital.

"Our practice sites were turned into rescue shelters for the survivors," said Apache President Chris Hetherington, whose club donated $1 million to tsunami relief efforts.

"And while apparently stable, the nuclear reactor at the Fukushima power plant still presented risks. The downside risk was too great."

Unlike Sendai and Saitama, who are staring into the financial abyss, Apache have no such problems, although it remains to be seen if former NBA coach Bob Hill will return.

"It was disappointing to have to leave after all the hard work we had put in," Hill, who led San Antonio to an NBA-best 62 wins in 1994-95.

"With so many folks dying ... and the quakes continuing in Tokyo, basketball seemed so unimportant."

The disaster left 28,000 people dead or missing and destroyed vast areas of northeast Japan, while blackouts and fears over radiation leaks hit sporting events nationwide.

"I have no idea if I will be back again in Tokyo," added Hill, who also coached the New York Knicks, Indiana and Seattle in his NBA career.

"I have had little communication with ownership and management at this point."