Hachimura’s XXXIV Heritage shoes were released earlier this year exclusively in his native Japan. The Warrior retails for $180. “I grew up in a small town (Toyama) that’s six hours away from Tokyo,” Hachimura said in an article on AirJordan.com. “My family was the only Black family in the city. When I grew up and started playing basketball, I started to gain more respect but it was hard, especially for my brother and sisters. It was a different experience for us growing up. I love seeing my logo on it. It means Black Samurai. I grew up in Japan as a Black man and went through a lot of things. My logo is for my family and other mixed-race kids. I want to inspire those kids.”
Nikuro is a VIP guest of the Wizards in the bubble. He’s a virtual VIP guest, to be specific, which is why no one in the arena batted an eye when the 21-year-old wandered onto the court in the middle of a game. To be clear: Nikuro isn’t a real person. He’s one of a growing number of computer-generated virtual influencers, almost-human-looking characters manufactured by venture capital-backed technology companies across the world to serve as brand ambassadors in the music, fashion and entertainment industries. Nikuro, who was created by Tokyo-based 1Sec Inc., is the first such character to be employed by an NBA team. “We just thought it was a really unique and great way to connect with a younger generation and a new audience for us,” said Jim Van Stone, president of business operations for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Wizards.
Booker’s digging led her to Nikuro, whose Tokyo-based creator bills the character as Japan’s first male virtual influencer. He’s a basketball fan who splits his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles. He loves music, including Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber and Kendrick Lamar. “He may be fake, but he has a real personality,” 1Sec CEO Hirokuni Genie Miyaji told the Japan Times last year. Like Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura, Nikuro is half Japanese, which made him an especially good fit for the team. “I just felt like that ties in perfectly with the story we’re building here with Rui,” Booker said. “He doesn’t have the millions of followers that some of the other virtual influencers do, but his story line is resonating [in Japan].”
Darren Rovell: Read this one very closely. The @WashWizards have struck a deal with 1Sec Inc. in Japan to put their digital human influencer Liam Nikuro inside the NBA bubble to have virtual adventures in Orlando associated with the team. @TedLeonsis, @ZacharyLeonsis, you guys blow my mind.
Zach Leonsis: The @WashWizards digital team is doing some really impressive work. They deserve the credit here! The @NBA has always been on the forefront of technology and experimentation. What better time to try new things than now. #RepTheDistrict #WholeNewGame
Ohm Youngmisuk: Wizards’ rookie Rui Hachimura said he will try to kill some of the free time on campus in Orlando by learning as much as he can about taxes, citing that he has to pay taxes both in Japan and the US. Smart rookie.
James McAdoo has signed in Japan with Hitachi Sunrockets. The two-time NBA champion has played with Besiktas and Partizan Belgrade this season. “I am beyond excited to begin my career in Japan with the historic Sunrockers Shibuya Organization. I can’t wait to get there and start working with my teammates towards winning a championship this season.