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Rui Hachimura, NBA’s new Japanese star, partners with sneaker reseller Goat

Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP)
Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP)
By Eben Novy-Williams Washington Post

Online sneaker marketplace Goat is teaming up with NBA rookie Rui Hachimura, hoping his popularity in his native Japan will help the company make inroads in one of its biggest growth areas.

Asia is quickly becoming the dominant region in luxury fashion and streetwear. After launching in China last year, Goat is prioritizing growth across the rest of Asia in 2020, and Japan tops that list, given its outsized influence on sneaker culture and design.

To reach its goals, the company wants ambassadors who resonate in Asia. Hachimura, who plays for the Washington Wizards, was the only Asian-born player on an opening-day NBA roster. He’s followed closely in Japan, and he’ll anchor the country’s Olympic basketball team when it competes on home soil during the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

“There’s so much opportunity with Rui that goes beyond the U.S. market,” said Goat co-founder Sen Sugano, who is Japanese-American. “We have a fairly young demographic, and he’s really inspiring to this next generation. Japanese kids, for sure, but also kids of mixed race, a topic he’s been open about in the past.”

Hachimura will be Goat’s second brand ambassador, joining Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. The company doesn’t pay cash to its ambassadors, instead it provides a suite of products – rare sneakers that can sell on the site for thousands of dollars. Hachimura’s collection will all be Air Jordans, given his multiyear agreement with the Nike Inc. brand.

Founded in 2015, Los Angeles-based Goat is a secondary market where people can buy and sell verified rare sneakers and popular general release shoes. Its name is a play on the sports slang for Greatest of All Time.

Hachimura, whose mother is Japanese and whose father is Beninese, started playing basketball when he was in junior high in Japan, and quickly blossomed into a star. He attended Gonzaga University, and became the first Japanese-born player ever selected in the first round of the NBA draft.

His diverse background and early success on the court has already made him one of the league’s most marketable young players. In addition to Nike and Goat, his other partners include SoftBank, Nissin Foods, Japan’s NEC Corp., watch brand G-Shock and Japanese bank SMBC.

Hachimura’s introductory press conference with the Wizards had over 100 Japanese media members, and 20 to 30 media organizations from the country attend games on a nightly basis, according to Jim Van Stone, chief commercial officer for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the team. The Wizards recently signed a major sponsorship deal with NEC, launched a Japanese-language version of its website, hired a Japanese-language correspondent, and launched a Japanese twitter account.

“When we drafted Rui, with those overwhelming numbers, we realized that we needed to launch a Japanese language content platform,” Van Stone said. The team recently analyzed that platform and found that over the past two months, the Wizards Japanese Twitter account had more interaction than the English-language accounts of seven NBA teams.

Goat, which recently landed a $100 million investment from Foot Locker Inc., is hoping to capitalize on that same interest. Japan has a vibrant sneaker culture and a wealthy average consumer. In a recent study by Hypebeast and PricewaterhouseCoopers, 28% of Japanese respondents said they spend $300 or more per streetwear purchase, the most of any country in the study.

The Hachimura and Kuzma deals are part of a wider push by Goat into the NBA, by far the most fashion-forward of the major U.S. leagues. The company recently put its brand on an entryway at Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets, as a backdrop for photos and videos of what stars are wearing when they enter the arena.

That came alongside an expansion of the marketplace beyond just shoes. Goat also now features apparel from luxury brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent.

“That is where we’re headed,” Sugano said. “It’s more than just the sneakers. It’s the whole look.”

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