3×3 Wheelchair Basketball: Medalist Launches First Official Tournaments in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Renshi Chokai, center, plays in a 3×3 game at Tressa Yokohama in April

YOKOHAMA — Official 3×3 wheelchair basketball tournaments, the first of their kind in Japan, have been held since last autumn, thanks largely to the efforts of Tokyo Paralympic MVP Renshi Chokai, who helped the Japanese wheelchair basketball team take the silver medal.

Certified by the International Basketball Federation, the first matches were held in October. The third such event is scheduled for Friday in Odaiba, Tokyo.

“I want to establish this as a sport that everyone can get excited about, regardless of disability,” said Chokai, 24, who belongs to the Kanagawa Vanguards.

Chokai thanked the hundreds of the spectators after the second tournament, which was held on April 22 at an indoor plaza of a Yokohama commercial facility. “I wanted people who have never watched wheelchair basketball to see the tournament,” he said.

Wheelchair basketball has been in the spotlight since the success of the Japanese national team at the Tokyo Paralympics. According to the Japan Wheelchair Basketball Federation (JWBF), however, there were only 711 registered players in 2022, about 60% of the peak in 1999.

With the number of players in decline, the JWBF is promoting the sport by allowing the registration of able-bodied athletes.

Feeling a sense of crisis, Chokai consulted with teammate Genki Nishimura, 31, the Vanguards’ representative director, to come up with a way to showcase their games in public free of charge. The sport of 3×3 basketball is played in a space half the size of a regular court, so the players and spectators are closer to each other and can build a sense of unity.

Moved by their enthusiasm, Kei Okada, 35, the owner of a 3×3 court in Tokyo for able-bodied players, agreed to help run the tournaments. Okada invites an emcee and a DJ to liven up the games.

There is no revenue from ticket sales, but sponsors who support the tournaments’ objectives are helping out.

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
From left: Genki Nishimura, Kei Okada and Renshi Chokai at the Tressa Yokohama commercial facility in Kohoku Ward, Yokohama, on April 22

The project is named “Push Up,” reflecting the concept of pushing the sport out of the gymnasium and into cities, and boosting its popularity. Five teams are scheduled to compete in Odaiba, following the matches in Chiba in October and in Yokohama in April.

Nishimura said he dreamed of “improving the quality of the tournaments and making 3×3 basketball a Paralympic sport in the future.”

JWBF executive director Kaori Tachibana said, “We want to help set up the environment and work together to increase the number of players.”

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
The 3×3 court at Tressa Yokohama