This weekend's season-opener in Japan was somewhat of a respite for most of the Jazz and Suns players. After spending their careers in the public eye, signing autographs at every turn, they found that they were mostly left alone in Japan.
Although they got stares, few people in Tokyo knew who they were. "Nobody asks for autographs," said Suns' swingman Dan Majerle.While that may not be entirely accurate, 7-foot-4 Jazz center Mark Eaton says the average Oriental fan has something the Americans should consider: wonderful manners.
"They're very polite and gracious. If you signed an autograph, they would shake your hand and thank you. In Utah maybe one in 50 kids will say thank you."
Another plus, he said, is the lack of sarcasm. Eaton hasn't had to endure even one person asking him, "How's the weather up there?"
"They do a few double-takes, but they don't do any finger pointing," continued Eaton. "And there's no smart remarks. You can tell in any language if people are making smart remarks just by the tone."Suns' forward Kurt Rambis and his industrial-strength horn-rimmed glasses have become a minor phenomenon in American basketball. Fans in the NBA have been known to show up by the dozens at games wearing look-alike glasses.
Rambis says he isn't sure if anyone will show up wearing Rambis glasses at Metropolitan Gymnasium this weekend, except himself. "I know there will be one person wearing them," he said.After several days of being interviewed by Japanese reporters, Suns' Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons has decided there are qualities American reporters can learn, too. Not only are Japanese reporters polite, he says, but they try to ask polite questions.
"They don't have their sabres out. They're relaxed," he said.
Having warmed up on the subject, Fitzsimmons also offered his views on American journalists. "You guys, you're like death and taxes," he added. "You're inevitable."At least the players are getting some different questions. Instead of being asked about trapping defenses and three-guard rotations, they're explaining what a slam-dunk is.
Suns forward Tom Chambers may have handled the strangest question of all. During an interview with a Japanese television reporter, her first question was: "Why are you so tall??!!"Fitzsimmons, an admitted "people person," says the Japan trip has actually been a good way to start the season. The reason is the lack of pressure.
"I think there's less pressure than if we were starting the season at home," he said. "It's kind of low-key. In Phoenix, everything would be all pumped up and people would be running into me at the grocery store, asking about the game. Here it's actually a little more relaxing."Apparently nobody in the NBA is going to switch over to a sushi diet soon. Players from both teams said they've stayed as far away from raw fish and rice as they could. Meals have mostly been eaten at the hotel, where breakfast includes such American staples as eggs, bacon, pancakes, cold cereal and fruit.
None seemed particularly adventurous when it came to trying a new diet. "I'm not eating none of that junk," said Karl Malone.
Said Fitzsimmons, "I tried that food before. I have to say I couldn't eat it. But nowadays, I don't eat a lot of things."For people that make several million dollars a year, it's rare when they'll blink an eye over prices. But in Tokyo, said to be the world's most expensive city, even Jazz players are feeling the bite of inflation.
Thurl Bailey paid about $8 for a strawberry milkshake. Karl Malone ended up spending $320 for three silk ties.
"Three-hundred twenty dollars for three ties," mused Malone. "And I'm not even a tie man. I don't know what got into me."