Still wearing their school uniforms - striped ties, blue blazers, gray slacks - Masaki Komatsu, 16, and Kajuhimo Kuwajima, 15, stopped at the Isetan Department Store on their way home from school Thursday afternoon. It isn't every day that three members of your favorite NBA basketball team drop by for autographs.
"Big fans," said Masaki and Kajuhimo, meaning themselves. After that self-description, their English deteriorated, although they were nonetheless glued to three big screen TVs showing the full-length, uncut videotape of last May's Utah Jazz-Phoenix Suns decisive Game 5 playoff game. When Tommy Heinsohn talked, they listened.They had just come from the table where the Jazz's Mark Eaton, John Stockton and Darrell Griffith were signing autographed photos as
quickly as writer's cramp would allow. Masaki and Kajuhimo had their autographs, and they each had a copy of the "Official Book of the Opening Games," bought for a price of 3,000 yen apiece, or about $25.
Big fans for sure.
"It's kind of amazing, the following we have," said Griffith. "I mean, these people know who we are. They were going through the (autograph) line, saying stuff like 'Sorry about last year in the playoffs.' " They knew the video's outcome, and they were watching it anyway.
More than 1,000 Jazz/NBA/basketball fans turned out at Isetan to see Eaton, Stockton and Griffith make their half-hour apperance, and to watch the big-screen videotape, and to shop in the special NBA Arcade, and to shoot at the basketball hoops scattered around the exhibition area on the roof of the Isetan Store, a kind of combination Nordstrom/Saks/Bloomingdales/Safeway in downtown Tokyo that does more business in an average day than all of North Dakota.
If they don't have it at Isetan, you'll never be able to prove it.
They had the Jazz on Thursday (and the Phoenix Suns on Friday) and if NBA basketball isn't more popular on this side of the international dateline than Sumo and Saduhara Oh, you wouldn't have known it on the Isetan roof.
They came, they saw, and they got autographs. And they were well-mannered about it.
"I didn't hear one tall joke," said the 7-foot-4 Eaton. "I would call these people extremely gracious."
"They had about 15 basketballs out there on the courts," said Stockton, in awe, "and nobody stole them, not even one."
They did take plenty of pictures.
They knew what they were shooting, too. Just because it took the NBA until this weekend to play some regular season games in Japan doesn't mean nobody here knows what's been going on in the best basketball league in the world.
A 22-year-old college student named Shiro Takahashi adjusted his Michael Jordan backpack and snapped a shot of Eaton as the Jazz center got up from his chair and rubbed his left wrist.
"Chicago Bulls my favorite team and Michael Jordan my favorite player," Takahashi said, grinning when he said Jordan's name. "But I like Jazz better than the Suns."
He said he was sorry about last year in the playoffs.
He said he'll be at Sunday's game, looking for revenge.
At the NBA Arcade, NBA wardrobe junkies didn't know where to start, or stop. A $400,000display of official NBA merchandise, there for the buying. Official starter jackets ($225 here, compared to $75 in the U.S. - an example that the exchange rate can hurt both ways), 1991 NBA calendars ($12), v-neck sweaters with the logo of your favorite team ($100), pennants ($10), key chains , official NBA Spalding balls ($120), rugby shirts ($80), and Converse "Jazz" shoes just like Karl Malone used to wear ($104, down from $124).
Business was brisk, if not booming. The autographs - they were free - moved steadier, although at 3:30 p.m., on the dot, the department store announced the half-hour session was over - and, to Stockton's continued astonishment, those still waiting in line merely walked away.
"These people had to be about 50 times as polite as back home," he said.
But then, they were still trying to get used to the idea that John Stockton was bigger than their TV screens, and that the NBA is too. At Isetan this week, the NBA and their faithful fans in Japan were finally formally introduced.