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    Another step toward normalcy: Warriors-Wizards preseason games in Japan

    Mar 15, 2022
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    PHOTO: AP

    STEPHEN Curry is heading back to Japan, Rui Hachimura is going home and the NBA is planning to take another step toward normalcy.

    The NBA announced on Monday night (Tuesday, Manila time) that Golden State and Washington will be headed to Saitama, Japan, for the first two games of the 2022 preseason schedule. The Warriors and Wizards will play there on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.

    Those will be the first games for the NBA outside of North America since Jan. 24, 2020, when Milwaukee and Charlotte met in Paris for a regular-season game about six weeks before the global pandemic began.

    The last time the NBA traveled overseas for preseason contests was October 2019, when Sacramento and Indiana played twice in Mumbai, Houston and Toronto played twice in Saitama and the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn played a pair of games in China.

    The league has a deal in place to bring games to Abu Dhabi for the first time this fall as well, though has yet to officially reveal which teams are heading there for preseason games.

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    "We've had the pleasure of building many impactful relationships throughout Japan, and some of our players, including Stephen Curry, have thoroughly enjoyed recent visits to Tokyo and the interactions they've shared with basketball fans who love the game," Warriors CEO and co-executive chairman Joe Lacob said.

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    The announcement was made Tuesday in Tokyo — Monday night in the U.S. — and probably not coincidentally, just before the start of a Warriors-Wizards game.

    Stephen Curry, Rui HachimuraThe Warriors and Wizards play two preseason games in Japan.

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    Curry's popularity in Japan is off the charts, and he's been there twice as part of offseason promotional tours. Hachimura is the first Japanese player to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft.

    "I was just amazed about the passion for the game, the energy around the game, how many people watch, how many people play and just the culture that's around basketball — and the way the Japanese citizens really can show their creativity and culture through the game," Curry said.

    Overseas games had become an annual occurrence for the NBA before the pandemic, and Commissioner Adam Silver said it was a big step for the league to get such games back on the calendar.

    "Having our teams resume international travel is a sign that we're getting back to a more normal way of life," Silver said.

    It'll also mark a bit of a sentimental trip for Warriors coach Steve Kerr and forward Draymond Green. Kerr was an assistant and Green played for USA Basketball last summer at the Tokyo Olympics, when the Americans topped France for the gold medal in the same arena where the preseason games will be held.

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    "Very popular teams will be coming to Japan," said Mickey Mikitani, the chairman and CEO of Rakuten, which will present the games and has sponsorship agreements with the Warriors and Curry as well. "It's going to be a historical opportunity. ... It's really a dream match."

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    PHOTO: AP
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