Although tickets for this weekend's Jazz-Suns games have been sold out for months, and interest is high, that doesn't mean people in Metropolitan Gymnasium are going to lose their customary Japanese reserve and break dance along the concourses.
At best, the teams will likely play to a politely clapping crowd.NBA V.P. for Development Dave Checketts said he is concerned about how the normally reserved Japanese will respond.
Getting crazy and painting your chest purple isn't considered proper etiquette in Japan.
The league wanted to hand out towels for fans to wave, but was told such actions aren't acceptable.
"They know the NBA is big in the U.S. but they don't know what that means," said Checketts. "One of my greatest concerns is that they'll all just sit on their hands during the game."
There will be some gimmicks to get the 10,000 people involved in the game. Large screens on either end of the court will show highlights of great NBA plays during timeouts. The videos will include screaming American fans.
"I think the dunks will raise some eyebrows," said guard John Stockton.
Naturally, the Mailman has no such concerns. What drives them crazy in Salt Lake ought to do the same in Japan.
"You're talking about the NBA," said Malone. "If anyone can bring them out of their seats, it definitely will be us."
Although the Jazz say they are happy to represent the NBA in its precedent-setting appearance in Japan, the trip doesn't stand to be a rousing financial success. After all expenses and guarantees are figured in, G.M. Tim Howells says the Jazz "may come out a little less than if we had played (Phoenix) at home."
The NBA's plans to expand to an international entity appear to be well founded. Howells said at a recent NBA Board of Governors meeting, it was announced that about 25 percent more countries watched last year's NBA All-Star Game than watched the Super Bowl.
Speaking of All-Star Games, Howells said that he thinks the Jazz will make a bid for the event shortly after the new arena is completed.
Due partly to playing games Sunday and Monday in the East, the Jazz did nothing special to prepare for the jet lag while traveling to Tokyo.
Not so with the Phoenix Suns. After playing in Chicago last Saturday night, players flew home late to Phoenix, then went out to dinner. They purposely didn't go to bed until about 5 a.m., in order to adjust for the 16-hour time difference between Tokyo and Phoenix.
Keeping them up wasn't a problem, said Fitzsimmons. "I found it's much easier to keep a player awake on a plane than on the basketball court," he cracked.
The team practiced Monday and Tuesday at 3 a.m., then flew out of Phoenix Tuesday after practice for Tokyo.
"If we win both games, we'll get credit all over the world," said Fitzsimmons. "In fact, if we win, we're going to practice at 3 a.m. the rest of the year."
To date, Fitzsimmons says he isn't sure what to make of his early-morning sessions. He said the best practice his team had all year was at the first 3 a.m. session; he also said the worst practice they had all year came at a 3 a.m. session.
Either way, he's not making excuses. "Win or lose, I don't want to read or hear anything that this trip affected our season," said Fitzsimmons.
If Karl Malone and Kevin Johnson don't catch on in Japan, maybe Checketts will. The league V.P. said on Wednesday night a Japanese contact took him to a keioki bar, a place he describes as being equipped with "a big TV screen, a laser disc, microphones, and words scrolled across the screen."
People in the audience are called up and expected to sing.
You know the rest. Checketts was called up on stage with another NBA official. His rendition? "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
In the NBA marketing department, there's one more option if basketball doesn't catch on: Frank Layden.
Checketts says if they don't like basketball, they can also sell Jazz President Frank Layden. "We've signed Frank up for sumo wrestling," said Checketts. "I'm selling tickets for $250 each and giving him 3-1 odds."