By Ed Odeven
Unlike numerous American players who fled from Japan after the March 11 twin natural disasters and Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis, ex-coach Bob Pierce of the Akita Northern Happinets didn’t go anywhere. He reminded everyone that he had a job to do, and he did it.
In fact, all of his players under contract completed the season. And in their spare time the Happinets were actively involved in raising funds for Tohoku and conducted a number of hoop clinics and community projects throughout the region to raise people’s spirits.
Which is why it’s a complete disgrace that the Happinets fired Pierce after one season. Expansion teams don’t win 65 or 70 percent of their games. It’s not realistic. The Happinets went 18-32 — not horrible, not great — but they now have something to build on for the future.
Pierce should’ve been given one more year to lay the foundation for the team’s future; they owed him that for his commitment to the team, the community and the league during a time of widespread suffering. The entire Happinets organization, including Pierce, worked tirelessly to help set the right example that sports matter during times of crisis.
Photographs showing the combined efforts of Akita and the Albirex made a powerful statement, too, that teams can be united for the common good. Just ask the Sendai 89ers about that.
While the Apache and Broncos ended their seasons early but pitched in to help with various fundraising efforts, Pierce’s team worked on both things simultaneously, knowing that they could be a force for good on and off the court and for the nation’s mental recovery as well.
The Happinets’ decision, however, regardless of the reason, smacks of a team seeking a quick fix (enter coaching star Kazuo Nakamura, the soon-to-be-named bench boss) and forgetting about common decency and respect.
This much is certain: This is a low point in Happinets history and will be a dark chapter in the team’s history for years to come.