Dear Brooklyn and Toronto | By Yuta Watanabe

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(Note: This article is a translation of the original, which is in Japanese.)

My fifth season in the NBA has finally begun.

I’d like to share my thoughts today about Brooklyn, where I’ll be playing this season, and Toronto, where I’ve played my last two seasons.

I feel like I have some kind of deep connection to Brooklyn. I came to the USA, the home of basketball, nine years ago, and many milestones in my life have happened in this city. Walking the streets of Brooklyn now, with fall in the air, special memories come to mind.

He was always hanging off the edge of a cliff, never making the opening day roster for five seasons.

yuta watanabe

Four years ago, after I graduated from George Washington University, several NBA teams brought me in to train. I was hoping that one of them would pick me in the NBA draft. The first place I worked was here in Brooklyn.

I went on to train with seven different teams, including the Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks, but I really connected with the Nets and they asked me to join the team for the 2018 Summer League. That was the start of my NBA career.

If you look at the two photos below, you’ll see that I was pretty skinny back then, lol.

Yuta Watanabe |  Brooklyn Nets |  Dear Brooklyn and Toronto |  Players' Tribune
Left: ©Yasushi Kobayashi | Right: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images/

I recently remembered that I had a previous connection with this city, even before the Summer League.

In March 2015, when I was a freshman, I played in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament. The venue that year was the Barclays Center. That was the first time I went out on an NBA court. The following year I played in the same tournament, also in Brooklyn. It’s a ruthless competition that ends as soon as you lose. I still remember how frustrating it was to get out of a tournament two years in a row where only the champion can advance to the NCAA tournament.

Yuta Watanabe |  Brooklyn Nets |  Dear Brooklyn and Toronto |  Players' Tribune

And now I will play in the city again.

By the end of August he had already signed a contract with the team, but it was only a camp contract, not a full contract. With the players cut one by one, there was no guarantee that he would survive until the beginning of the season.

I’ve played in the NBA for four seasons, but only on a camp contract. I honestly thought, Oh, is this all I’m capable of doing? I was frustrated with myself, not with the team.

Having never been on an opening day slate for five seasons, I always felt like I was dangling off the edge of a precipice. And first he had to survive in the camp, otherwise there was no next step.

I thought, I’ll have to start all over again… I’ll have to climb back up from the bottom.

He was quite concerned as he had had a series of injuries. From June to September he spent days without practicing. I can say this now, but there were times when I lost confidence that I would even make the opening day roster. And I thought about how there are so many players who aren’t even invited to camp, but I had that opportunity again this year. He had to be thankful for that.

Players were leaving one after another, but I fought my way to the last preseason game, chasing my dream of becoming a key player on one of the best teams in the NBA.

Yuta Watanabe |  Brooklyn Nets |  Dear Brooklyn and Toronto |  Players' Tribune

Then, just before the season opener, GM Sean Marks officially told me that he had been selected as one of 15 players on the opening day roster. I thanked him for the opportunity.

He told me, “Yuta, you earned it.”

The roster does not necessarily have to be 15 players. With a star-studded team like the Nets, it might only be 14, but the reason they kept me was because they knew I would have a role to play this season. The GM’s words convinced me of this, and I felt both relief at having survived the training camp and joy at the recognition of my abilities.

But I had to turn off this way of thinking.

With the season already underway and my contract not guaranteed, I’m still on the brink, even though I’m on the list. So I am determined not to lose a single second and keep fighting this season.

Toronto has become unforgettable for me.

yuta watanabe

The day after the publication of this article, October 21, there is a game that has a special meaning for me. It’s the second game of the season and it’s at home against the Toronto Raptors, the team I played for the last two seasons.

I loved Toronto. It was a big city, but it also had a quietness about it. It was wonderful, there were lakes and lots of natural beauty, with a real sense of calm. The most surprising thing for me was that I made friends in Toronto who had no connection to basketball, whereas I had never made any friends outside of the sport before.

I was with the team for two seasons, but the first year I was in Florida due to Covid. So I only lived in Toronto for one season. I will never forget my first visit to Toronto in my second year. When I was walking around the city, I was surprised to hear so many people yelling, “Yuta!” I was happy that so many people had seen me play and were supporting me.

The fans in Toronto are very passionate and even after I left the team, many people still sent me kind messages through social media. Toronto has become unforgettable for me, both for the people and for the city. I am sure that I will continue to visit you every year, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you.

Many thanks to the people of Toronto.

But… from now on the Raptors are our adversaries. Even though they are my former teammates and they know me, when it comes to the game I can’t hold back and I will play to win. The Nets have some of the best scorers in the NBA, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and I guess the Raptors will play special defense against them. I can’t say for sure, but when I played against the Nets last season, I also played special defense against them. The Raptors change their tactics a lot during a game, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll try and I’ll do my best to beat them.

Yuta Watanabe |  Brooklyn Nets |  Dear Brooklyn and Toronto |  Players' Tribune

There is something I always try to remember on my trip:

Only 450 people in the world play in the NBA, the pinnacle of basketball.

With a global pool of 450 million basketball players, 450 people is just 0.0001% of that.

It’s by far the hardest league to get into, and some say it’s even harder to survive in: Most NBA careers are said to last only two or three years. I’ve been on the edge of the cliff every season and I’ve been near the bottom of the list, but the fact that I’ve been a select 450 for five years… I’m very proud of that.

Regardless of whether I am a Japanese player or not, I am proud that the dream of a little boy who once watched the NBA on TV and thought: I wish I could play on that stage tooIt has been coming true for five years.

As a member of the Nets, the most important thing for me right now is to show the team what I can do. It is important for me to find my role. The Nets are a team of superstars. But I’m sure there is a role on this team where I can be successful and help us win games. I want to pursue that throughout the season, just like I did in the preseason, and be the player that they need me to be.

Yuta Watanabe |  Brooklyn Nets |  Dear Brooklyn and Toronto |  Players' Tribune

I am back in Brooklyn after 4 years.

It has been about a month and a half since I signed the camp contract and moved to this city. It’s a great place to live, and when I come back after being away, I think, oh i’m home.

I particularly love the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn. I go there to eat or just walk when I need a break. It is sandwiched between two beautiful bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, with a view of Manhattan across the river. Remodeled cobblestone and red brick buildings give the area a great vibe. I haven’t been able to get out and walk much yet, but once I get to know Brooklyn better, I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the city even more.

I want to make the most of every day I have in the NBA so I can keep working hard until the end of the season. And when people walk past me, I hope they call “Yuta!”

#Dear #Brooklyn #Toronto #Yuta #Watanabe

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