SpaceBall Mag: Bridging The Cultural Baller Gap between the U.S. & Japan (An Interview w/ Bang Lee & Jeremy Renault)
Photo Credit: Jeremy Renault
SpaceBall Mag has become a beacon for helping to spread the sport and culture of street ball and basketball to Japan and other parts of Asia. They're sharing their experiences from one culture and fusing it with another by promoting, organizing, learning, and giving back to the growing baller community within Japan. And something beautiful is slowly brewing.
Considering 75% of sōlscience's co-founder heritage roots from Japan, it was a pleasant surprise to be linked up with Jeremy Renault through our good friend, Ian Rice better known as @clipps555. You can read about Clipps here.
Jeremy moved to Tokyo in August 2017 with his wife and works in marketing and content production for basketball organizations in Japan and Taiwan. He introduced us to his long time friend, Bang Lee, a basketball consultant, editor, private trainer, and a coach who lived in NYC for 6 years and is especially known for helping to bring US street ball culture to Japan as well as Japanese teams to U.S. basketball tournaments such as the VBL and West 4th St.
Over the years, they've organized various events such as Adidas Nation Tokyo, Tokyo Weekdays Basketball League, and a new 3x3 league that started in November 2018 that we're proud to be involved in. It's a full court (smaller than the standard) 3x3 men's league with no subs during the game, only between each 5 minute quarter.
Jeremy has been studying Japanese basketball culture for over a year now realizes how much they care about the gear: sneakers, basketball, and accessories - hence the newly founded relationship between SpaceBall Mag and sōlscience.
Japan is special to us. Jeremy states that even after a game, when most people in the US just go home dressed with their sweaty shorts and t-shirts, the Japanese carefully pack their shoes in a shoe bag, clothes in another bag, they use Japanese deodorant body sheets all the time.
We were curious and wanted to learn more from Jeremy, Bang Lee, and the SpaceBall Mag movement in Japan. Here are some questions we asked them:
For those that don't know, what is SpaceBall Mag? And why the name?
BL (Bang Lee): It used to be a free paper about STREETBALL in NY. Now we organize some events in Japan. Basketball is like our universe, and you can go anywhere you want with it, like space.
Could you briefly describe how the two of you met?
BL: I brought team Japan to Venice Beach for VBL World Games in LA then.
JR (Jeremy Renault): In 2014 I was working for VENICEBALL in LA and Bang Lee who was a long time friend with Nick (Founder of the VBL) brought a team from Japan to play in our World Games tournament.
Could you give us a brief description of what you do individually, and also in the realm of basketball?
JR: I work in marketing, digital & experiential, mostly here in Tokyo with a strong background working with basketball organizations in the US. I also do basketball photography and videography and whenever I can help with a basketball league, media, collaboration I am always in.
How did you two come to begin living in Japan? And how long do you plan to live there?
BL: Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. Undecided.
JR: Moved from LA to Tokyo with my wife, I have always kept in touch with Bang Lee since 2014 and I liked what SpaceBall Mag was doing in Japan. I am very thankful to him for giving me an opportunity here. Undecided ,but so far it has been a great journey, basketball and food wise. =)
How did the idea of bringing the culture of US Street Ball to Japan come about?
BL: Simple. I used to live in NY for like 6 years and it's the Mecca of basketball there.
JR: I think from the lack of public facilities and outside courts being a problem. (You can find a lot of half court courts though.)
What are some key differences in basketball culture between US and Japan? The style of play? Sportsmanship?
BL: We have no playgrounds here in Japan. People can't play ball easy.
JR: I will say, Japan has less basketball facilities/park/outdoor courts, but there are a lot of events and leagues going on for men and women all year long. They like 1-on-1 and they work hard on their handles because compared to Americans, they are less physical, so speed and handle can help them dominate a bigger player. I have never seen a player getting mad or looking to fight with another player during a game.
How popular is Japanese college basketball? Does it air on TV like in the US?
BL: It's not...
JR: Cant even be compared to College nor HS games in the US.
Do you think the interest in basketball in Japan is growing? Why do you feel this way?
BL: Growing well, now we have a top pro league called the B league. It's year 3 now!
JR: its definitely growing with current Japanese NBA and NCAA players, Rakuten sponsoring an NBA team, the Tokyo 2020, 3-on-3 pro league here and more and more pro players coming to play in the B League (Robert Sacre ex Lakers plays in it, and a few D1 players). Last summer Stephen Curry, Westbrook, Draymond Green, and Ray Allen came to Tokyo and they are talking about hosting games for the 2019-2020 NBA pre-season in Japan.
Do you foresee more Japanese basketball players coming to the US (ie. Yuta Tabuse, Yuta Watanabe, Rui Hachimura)? If so, who are some of the up and coming players we should be on the lookout for?
BL: Kai Toews in NC, Chikara Tanaka (IMG Academy)
JR: Don't have names in mind, but seeing how the game is changing and how the young are training, I wont be surprised to see more Japanese players coming to US.
What do you feel the Japanese could learn from the Americans (and vice versa) within Street Ball culture?
BL: Alot. There is a playground at the corner if you walk, every 4 blocks in NY. There are 80 tourneys in the summer time in NYC. People pay money for playing basketball as culture in U.S.
JR: Would love to see a Japanese pro-AM league during the summer, 5-on-5 mix of street ballers, college, and pro. The Japanese city office should be open to build/renovate more basketball courts like in the US. Americans should learn to talk less on the court (J/K).
When did you first start playing basketball? Did you play in high school, college team or an adult league?
BL: Started when I was 13 to now. Played pro-am in NY a lot.
JR: Played in club in France from 9 years old to 21, then moved to US, played for few rec league S/O to Sawtelles Sonics ;)
What are some of your hobbies and sports outside of basketball?
BL: Soccer sometimes.
JR: Content production, photo video, marketing, currently taking some classes to learn Japanese
What do you hope to accomplish while in Japan?
JR:: Being fluent in Japanese. Work on more basketball events. Be part of some Tokyo 2020 activations. Would love to have my own photo exhibition. Keep building the relationship between Japan, US, EU like how we started with you guys.
:: LET'S PLAY FAVORITES ::
Favorite current basketball shoe:
BL: Adidas Crazy BYW
JR: Crazy Explosive
Favorite all-time basketball shoe:
BL: Taichi Mid
JR: Kobe VII
Favorite sneaker brand:
Favorite basketball player in Japan:
BL: Kai Toews
JR: I haven't seen a lot of games here yet but I have met Hiryu Okamoto at some workouts and I was very impressed with his speed handle.. they work hard.
Favorite NBA basketball player:
BL: Nate Robinson
Favorite NBA team:
BL: NY Knicks
Favorite up-and-coming basketball lifestyle brand:
JR: Adidas, Aime Leon Dore, for US and Euro people, please check-out AKTR and BALLAHOLIC brands from Japan, they are a big part of the basketball culture here.
Favorite basketball related artist:
BL: Bobbito Garcia
JR: Andrew Archer
Who do you think is the GOAT and why:
BL: MJ (why not?)
JR: MJ because he became THE reference when it comes to basketball highlights, moves, everybody wanted to "Be Like Mike" including Kobe and LeBron.
And finally, your prediction for 2018-19 NBA champions:
JR: GSW, but I would like to see Harden with a ring.
For more info on SpaceBall Mag, Bang Lee, and Jeremy Renault, please see below: