Trade deficits notwithstanding, there is one area Americans aren't likely to lose to the Japanese: basketball.

This weekend Japan gets an up close and personal look at America's best basketball when the Jazz and Phoenix Suns open the season here.The Jazz were scheduled to arrive in Tokyo Wednesday afternoon (early Wednesday morning in Salt Lake).

Although the players aren't making a big deal out of their chance to show off one of the U.S.'s most marketable products, they aren't exactly a secret over here, either. There are public appearances all week long for the Jazz.

This is one forum in which Japan would rather watch. They'll fight the Americans in the marketplace, but they want no part of Karl Malone.

As one Japanese banker admitted when the new arena in Salt Lake was dedicated, "One area we don't wish to compete with you in is basketball."

The Jazz have a week that includes public appearances, tours, dinners and, oh yes, two basketball games against the Phoenix Suns. Those games will be held Friday (9 p.m.) and Saturday nights (8 p.m.) to open the NBA season.

The Jazz left from New York Tuesday morning following their final exhibition game against Boston, Monday night in Providence, R.I.

Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, a no-nonsense coach by all accounts, is basically thumbing his nose at the 15-hour plane flight from New York to Tokyo. He scheduled a one-hour practice session immediately after de-planing in Japan.

"I want them to have as much of a normal routine as possible," said Sloan.

As far as he is concerned, this is nothing more than an exaggerated road trip. "It's just like going to southern Illinois (where he has a farm). You can't start worrying about where and when you play. You just go out and play.

"I like to play the game and be as good as you can and just let it roll."

He added, "Phoenix is playing under the same conditions we are."

Letting it roll would be a good idea for the Jazz, considering they went 1-7 during the exhibition season. Utah did come on momentarily at the end - after losing six straight - to beat Detroit, but then fell 120-102 to Boston.

The Jazz are apparently going to stick with a fairly conservative diet plan in the Orient. There won't be any wonder drinks or strict training regimens to adjust for the jet lag. "I've seen guys eat hot dogs before games and play like hell," said Sloan.

Although the Jazz players seem to be serious about focusing on basketball rather than sightseeing, they will have some free time. Most say they intend to look over the sights; others may want to go even farther.

"Actually," mused center Mike Brown, "I'd really like to climb Mt. Fuji."

He added, "Honest. I had a friend who did that and he said it was really something."

Since there won't be time to climb any mountains, he'll probably have to settle for tours set up by the team and league.

Thurl Bailey, the Jazz's resident renaissance man, said he, too, hopes to experience some of of the Orient. "It's an opportunity," he said. "I've never been out of the country. It will be a different experience for me."

The games will make professional sports history. This will mark the first time a major American pro league has held regular-season games outside North America.

Besides the Jazz, a group of Utah government officials will also be on the trip. The State of Utah is hosting a dinner on Thursday.