March 6, 2011, was a typical Sunday for the Sendai 89ers.
The bj-league team, a perennial playoff squad under demanding bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi, faced the host Saitama Broncos in the finale of an ordinary two-game series, and star guard Mac Hopson scored 40 points in Sendai’s 95-86 victory.
Less than a week later, Japan’s present and future changed instantly. At 2:46 p.m., on March 11, the Great East Japan Earthquake, followed by a powerful tsunami, caused widespread devastation, thousands of deaths and unthinkable suffering to the Tohoku region. As a result, the 89ers’ season also ended.
Sendai and Miyagi Prefecture have begun the process of rebuilding, a task that will probably take decades. In this time, the 89ers and other sports team will play a role in giving people a sense of normalcy in their daily lives.
“We really like playing for the city and we really want the city to be behind us as well,” forward Johnny Dukes said after the team’s Oct. 28 morning practice at their new training facility, the Haleo Dome. This was a day before Sendai’s first home game since late February, and after practice new coach Bob Pierce spoke to several reporters about the 89ers’ return and, in his view, its significance.