The Ryukyu Golden Kings claimed their first Japanese B.LEAGUE title on May 28, sweeping Chiba Jets two games to none in the best-of-three 2022-23 B.LEAGUE Championship Finals. The victory notably marked the first championship for 33-year-old Kings’ talisman Ryuichi Kishimoto.
The Jets were heavy favorites going into the finals. Led by ex-NBA pro and national team star Yuki Togashi, they dominated the regular season, topping the standings with a 53-7 record. In the last seven years, Togashi has led the Jets to one championship, three runner-up finishes and four regular season titles. He has been in the B.LEAGUE Best Five team every year from 2017 to 2022.
Standing at just 167 cm and weighing 65 kg, Togashi’s success in basketball despite his small stature has been an inspiration to Japanese basketball fans.
After winning the regular season and then the Emperor’s Cup, Togashi told Japanese media that his team’s goal was the “The Treble Championship” (regular season, Emperor’s Cup and playoffs).
Game 1 was the key contest in the finals, with the Kings winning an exhilarating game 96-93 in double overtime.
Togashi scored a game-high 31 points, adding eight assists. Import teammate John Mooney also played strongly for Chiba, recording 26 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks.
Despite Togashi and Mooney’s efforts, Ryukyu looked set to win as the final buzzer approached, leading 77-74. But Jets’ forward Vic Law nailed a three-pointer with 10 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
The game continued to be in stalemate after the first overtime tied at 82 apiece. Early in the second overtime, the Golden Kings dominated the offensive glass to set the tone for the rest of the game, ultimately winning the contest with a three-point victory.
Winning away at Chiba gave Ryukyu a psychological advantage going into Game 2 on home court in Okinawa. The Kings capitalized on their home court advantage with a dominant performance, taking a 13-point lead in the first quarter and controlled the game with a double-digit lead for most of the game. The Golden Kings finished as 88-73 winners to secure the championship.
Hometown hero Kishimoto said after the game, “We encountered many obstacles and overcame them… We’ve shown that we can win.”
Kishimoto was born in Nago, Okinawa, and has spent his entire career with his hometown Golden Kings, except for his four-year spell at college, at Daitou Bunka University in Tokyo. After college, Kishimoto joined Ryukyu as a rookie in the 2013-14 season. He took home Rookie of the Year honors while the Kings won the bj league championship.
The Golden Kings won the bj league again in 2015-16. But since the B.LEAGUE era began in 2016-17, they had not won a championship until this season. This was despite finishing West Region regular season champions for six consecutive seasons.