The NBA thinks it may have the answer to the biggest problem preventing the masses from playing basketball in Japan - namely, space. Or lack of it.

Huffy, the manufacturer that produces NBA licensed backboards, has come up with a lightweight, movable version. It weighs just 90 pounds until water is added, making it stable."It may be the answer to limited space problems here," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "You can put this (backboard) up and take it down where and when you want. It doesn't have to be permanent."

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This weekend's games weren't only shown in the United States. The contests were shown on Japan's national television, NHK, on a tape-delayed basis. Along with Japan, the games were also aired in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and on a delayed basis in Australia.Life in the NBA can be a grind, but probably never worse than this week's trip. After flying home from Japan on Sunday evening, the Jazz players - who will have been up for over 24 hours when they arrive in Salt Lake - are going directly to Westminster College for practice. The plan is to immediately get the players through the jet lag and back on U.S. time.

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If the Jazz are anxious to get home, think of the members of the NBA office staff, about 20 in all, who spent two weeks in Barcelona with the McDonald's Open games there and then moved lock, stock and office computers to Tokyo.

Almost half of the NBA office is in Tokyo, including commissioner David Stern and David Checketts, vice president in charge of development.

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While the Jazz and Suns have drawn considerable interest in Japan, Japan Times writer Greg Weigand says there's one player who would send the country into a frenzy.

"They're interested in getting any type of talent over here" said Weigand, "but if Michael Jordan came, there'd be riots."

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If it's hard to understand how a sport so foreign to the Orient would be so well-received, consider this: Interest in sports is so high in Japan that there are six national sports dailies in the country.

By comparison, the U.S. only recently began its first-ever sports daily, The National.

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Jazz forward Karl Malone has shown no interest in trying out the Japanese cuisine. He says just give him some of that Louisiana cooking.

Asked about the Japanese food, Malone says, "In Louisiana we eat fried chicken and collared greens. Over here it's all that baked food."

Asked if he ever plans to try the food, Malone says no. "I ain't even getting close to that stuff. If I'd eaten all that baked food when I was growing up, I wouldn't have been like this."Because of the cost of living in Tokyo, the daily per diem for the Jazz players has been increased from the American quota of $55 to $100. On top of that, a full free meal service is being provided daily by the Keio Plaza Hotel, where the team is staying.

Most of the players have been eating the free meals.

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The Suns-Jazz game may be the first NBA regular season contest to be played in Japan. However, many American collegiate contests have been played on Japanese soil.

Two such contests involved Utah schools. In 1978, Brigham Young University's football team played the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a regular season game in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. And the University of Utah basketball team played in the Suntory Bowl - in games that counted on the Utes' regular season record.

Two members of the courtside stat crew were brought in from the Jazz staff. They include John Allen, the supervisor of the Salt Palace crew, and Wayne Hicken, the Jazz's regular season official timer.