Dan Weiss arrived in Japan in the summer of 1989 to play basketball for Toyota Tsusho in Nagoya. Twenty-one years later, he made it into the NBA — in the business arena, not the court — where he works to promote the sport in Japan and Asia. As committed in business as he was in the game, Weiss is excited by the challenge to spread the b-ball gospel in a country that’s mad about baseball, soccer and golf.
How did you first come to Japan?
I started playing pro basketball for Toyota Tsusho in Nagoya after graduating from Santa Clara University, trying out with the Sonics and playing with Galatasary in Turkey. After getting my Japanese citizenship in 1996, I moved to Tokyo and played with Toyota Motors for four years before finishing my basketball career with Bosch Automotive in 2002. I spent one year coaching and teaching in the Tokyo area before returning to school at Hitotsubashi University’s International Corporate Strategy MBA course in 2003.
I did an internship with the Basketball World Championship organizing committee, which turned into a full time position with Hakuhodo Sport Marketing as the international marketing and sales manager/international team coordinator for the event until the end of the competition in September 2006. I was fortunate to be immediately offered a position as the director of marketing and planning for the Converse Performance Team, which was a three year agreement to help launch performance shoes in Japan. During this time I continued to run the Tokyo American Club’s youth basketball program and stay connected to various levels of basketball in Japan. As of April 2010, I realized a life long dream to make it in the NBA. Although it was not on the court, the position, director of business development and basketball programs, meant I would be directly involved in promoting basketball in Japan and Asia.
‘As a player I was not the strongest, fastest or a big jumper, but I took what I had and adapted until my skills and approach to the game matched and thus gave me an advantage’
What is the perception of basketball in Japan?
Basketball in Japan is not considered a major sport, and therefore selling the NBA brand means thinking outside the box and identifying areas that will be valuable to potential partners. For example, in the United States, if Lebron or Kobe’s names are mentioned to any kid, they will most likely know who they are what team they play for and, in some cases, the number of points scored in the last game they played. In Japan, you ask someone their favorite NBA player, and you are likely to get Michael Jordan as your answer. The best player of his time, but today he is an owner, which is harder to sell.
We need to raise awareness of the NBA’s biggest asset, it’s players and superstars, but when basketball games are placed behind baseball, soccer and golf on the ratings chart, other ways need to be found.
What advice do have for people just starting their careers?
Never give up your dream. Basketball has taken me all over the world and allowed me to see some amazing places and meet some incredible people.
Continue to give back. I have been blessed with a talent and a love of the game that I am always trying to share with others. Many of my greatest successes and opportunities have come when I was doing something as a favor for someone else.
Do the best you can with what you have. As a player I was not the strongest, fastest or a big jumper, but I took what I had and adapted until my skills and approach to the game matched and thus gave me an advantage over my competitors.
Finally enjoy life. I will admit I have had some dark times in my life, but as long as you continue to see the lessons learned and find a positive good things will happen for you. People will want to be around you and you will not get caught up in feeling trapped. New opportunities, new people and new areas to succeed will always be available.
How do you enjoy your time when you are not working?
For me family has always come first, so I try to spend free time with my 13-year-old daughter, my wife and our dog Milky, either at local parks, in the mountains outside Tokyo or visiting new places around the world. I also currently volunteer with the Special Olympics Basketball program in Tokyo on weekends and hope to continue to be involved with the Tokyo American Club’s youth basketball. Golf is also a sport I have played for quite a while, but recently have started putting in more time to meet the challenge and my personal expectations.