Not many university athletes have a chance to play as a pro after graduating, especially when it comes to the four big American leagues: the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL. The chances to become a professional are limited and narrow, but those options are not only available in the United States.
Calvin Chitwood, former CSUN basketball player who played as a Matador from 2004 to 2008, flew over the Pacific Ocean in search of his career as a pro. Although it was a hard decision to depart from his own culture, language, and family, he is challenging a new tradition and playing basketball in a distinct environment. The team he is playing for is the Niigata Albirex BB, in Japan.
‘So far, my experience here has been great,’ said Chitwood through an e-mail interview. ‘I really like how friendly people are here and how they aren’t too afraid to help someone out if they are having trouble.’
The Albirex BB is a team in the bj-league, a professional league in Japan. The location it plays in is the city of Niigata, the capital of Niigata Prefecture.
‘Niigata is much different than Los Angeles,’ said Chitwood. ‘Niigata to me isn’t small, yet it’s not very big either. One thing that’s interesting for me is how small the streets are when driving around town.’
The differences are not only the streets but also the environment where he plays.
‘One thing, to be honest, is that this is the first time that I am practicing in two different facilities that are not where we play most of our home games,’ said Chitwood. ‘Another (difference) is not having a team locker.’
Albirex BB became a professional basketball team in 2000 and joined the bj-league in November 2005, when it was inaugurated. Unlike the NBA, the history of the bj-league is very young and everything still needs to be developed.
The average budget for each team in the Japanese league is about $2 million, much less than the soccer league’s average of $20-to-$40 million and the baseball league’s of $70 million. The revenue of advertising is less as well. Because of this, the average audience per game for bj-league games is around 2,500. Each team is trying to establish relationships with their local hometown folks to get the audience necessary to run the business. The connection between the players and the hometown is essential to be loved as the city’s professional basketball team.
‘Things here in Niigata do not seem so ‘fast pace’ like they are back where I’m from,’ said Chitwood. ‘Everyone (in Los Angeles) is always on the go and never really seem to take time for themselves like people do here in Niigata.’
To be accepted as a member of the community and to adapt himself in the different environment in Japan, Chitwood still needs to get accustomed to the ‘slow pace’ of Niigata. There is also another thing that he has yet to overcome, the language wall.
‘I’m trying to adjust to our team’s style of play and learning how to adjust to the tendencies of my teammates,’ said Chitwood. ‘The language barrier makes things difficult.’
However, there is an advantage, too. There is no such barrier when it comes to his physical ability to get up and down the floor. His ability brings a good feeling to the games.
‘I’m still adjusting myself to the team and the different environment,’ said Chitwood. ‘But there will be many advantages to come when I feel more comfortable with them.’
‘Everybody, including all players and staff, is glad that Calvin joined our team,’ said Shigeko Nezu, a press officer of the Albirex. ‘(He) is going to be a big weapon for us. People in Niigata are also looking at him as a go-to guy for our team.’