It was a Saturday afternoon game that was being played live Friday night in America - and that was just the beginning of the NBA firsts registered in the Metropolitan Gymnasium here as the Utah Jazz played the Phoenix Suns.
They'd never played one like this before."We've never opened anywhere nearly as strange as this," said Jazz guard Darrell Griffith, playing in his 10th consecutive NBA opener but his first in Japan.
The Jazz-Suns season-opening game marked the first regular season NBA game to be played anywhere other than American soil. "NBA's First Japanese Opening Games" said the scoreboards on both ends of the 10,111-seat arena that sits next to Tokyo's Olympic Stadium, site of the 1964 Olympic Games.
The Suns-Jazz game represented, appropriately enough, the first basketball game in the multi-purpose arena.
The game had a 1 p.m. tipoff, Tokyo Standard Time. That translated to 9 p.m. in Utah and 11 p.m. on the East Coast - Friday night. Thus the opportunity to actually play a game in the afternoon and still charge prime time TV advertising rates back in the states.
The game was carried live on cable station TNT.
These were among other Saturday afternoon/Friday night historical firsts:
- First order of raw fish consumed at an NBA game . . . by an unidentified Japanese fan about an hour before tipoff.
- First scalping of an NBA ticket in yen.
- First "wave" on the far side of the international dateline (started at 6:53 of the second quarter in the section directly behind the Jazz bench, ended at 6:54 of the second quarter in the section directly next to the section behind the Jazz bench).
- First "Hi Mom" TV sign in Japanese characters.
- First time for U.S. and Japanese national anthems to precede an NBA contest.
- First time team captains for NBA teams are presented bouquets of flowers by little 4-year-old Japanese girls prior to the opening tap (regular season or otherwise).
The Jazz's Mark Eaton scored the first two regular season points on foreign soil - a dunk, the Suns' Kurt Rambis had the first steal, the Jazz's Jeff Malone had the
first air ball, the Jazz's John Stockton had the first personal foul, the Jazz's Karl Malone had the first traveling call, and the Suns' Cotton Fitzsimmons had the first public coaching tantrum in NBA/Japan regular season history.
The Japanese fans were exposed for the first time to the illegal defense rule - and looked equally as confused as fans in California or Chicago or New York.
Karl Malone did his first regular season fist-pump in Japan - after a dunk, and The Famous Chicken did his first NBA regular season gig in the Orient.
The crowd started slow, but by the second half was knowledgeable enough to boo the referees.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who welcomed the crowd and became the first NBA commissioner to watch an NBA season open overseas, said requests for NBA appearances - regular season and exhibition - are coming from all over the world.
"We're wanted," he said. "We'll have to sort out what to do."
He said it smiling.
"If I were a parent with a young child with basketball skills," he said. "I would encourage him to develop them. Player salaries could be relatively high by the end of the decade."
Meanwhile, out on the court, the commissioner watched the Suns and Jazz produce the first regular season winner and loser on foreign soil. Alas for the Jazz, it was them. But that gives them the chance to be the first team to get revenge on foreign soil - in the rematch to be played Sunday afternoon.
Or Saturday night if you're watching in New York.