This column appeared in The Japan Times in October 2014.

Kyoto forward Warren dedicates play to those battling cancer

By Ed Odeven

It’s not every day that you see a 202-cm forward wearing a pink headband during a men’s pro basketball game.

First of all, it doesn’t fit the macho image of the game.

So, of course, it’s an unusual sight. But that didn’t stop Reggie Warren, a veteran power (aka macho) forward for the Kyoto Hannaryz, from deciding to do this for last Saturday’s home game against the Bambitious Nara.

It was done as a tribute to those battling cancer. And, as he pointed out in an interview with Hoop Scoop on Sunday, it was done to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is October.

Warren had 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals in the Hannaryz’s 91-53 triumph over the Bambitious. As a result, Kyoto raised its record to 6-0 to begin the 2014-15 bj-league season.

More importantly, Warren made a bold statement — displaying the pink symbol, that is — throughout the game at Hannaryz Arena, showing support for those battling for their lives and those raising awareness, too.

“What I do on the court seems like nothing when I thought about actually fighting for your life, man,” Warren said. “That takes an enormous amount of strength.”

On the basketball court, Warren, who was named to the league’s Best Five Team last season while playing for the Rizing Fukuoka, is a pillar of strength, competing inside against big men, crashing the boards for rebounds, leaping through traffic for jams and putback. The two-time bj-league All-Star is also comfortable knocking down mid-range jumpers and 3-point shots.

After his sixth straight double-digit scoring game this season, the 33-year-old University of West Florida alum described how he made the decision to wear the pink headband.

“Yeah, I got these headbands from a booster here in Kyoto — some black, brown and pink ones,” he recalled. “I put the pink one to the side and was like, ‘I’m just going to give those to my wife (Belinda) and let her wear them when she get here,’ me being on some macho-type stuff.

“But when I thought about (it), I knew it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I know somebody that’s putting up a fight against cancer,” he added, referring to his wife Belinda’s mother.

Warren revealed that former Hannaryz teammate and friend Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s life has also been impacted by cancer, citing a Facebook post that the former NBA guard wrote about one of his children.

Which is why Warren was “just moved to do it.” He decided the time was appropriate to wear the pink headband, which includes Japanese kanji that roughly translates, Warren was informed, as “fight with all one’s strength” and “fight with God.”

Warren is an emotional, high-energy player. He has a fiery disposition on the court. He’s intense. He’s vocal. He encourages teammates. (Off the court, he’s more laid back. He’s also thoughtful, intelligent and friendly, and during the dozen or so times I’ve spoken with him after basketball games in various cities across Japan, he’s always been approachable and willing to speak his mind.)

“This is how I approach every game,” he said of the aggressive, do-anything-it-takes-to-win style that defines his game. “I give it my all. I fight with all my strength.”

And that inspires him to share this message, including the visible pink headband, with others.

“This is what I know my wife’s mother is doing right now: fighting with all her strength to beat this,” Warren said. “And I wanted her to know I am thinking about her and doing my part, praying she beat this.”

Warren has played for four bj-league franchises: Takamatsu Five Arrows (title runnerup squad in 2006-07, his first season in Japan), Saitama Broncos, Fukuoka and Kyoto (two stints, 2010-11 and this season). With Warren, three of those teams have been among the league’s elite teams. He’s carved out a niche in Japan in 274 regular-season games (with 269 dunks to date) and numerous playoff contests in five postseasons as a guy you expect to get a double-double every game.

And if you think about it, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks represent what most Japanese basketball fans know about Warren.

But as he stepped onto the Hannaryz Arena court on Saturday, they saw a different side to him, even if they didn’t realize it.

What was their reaction to his pink headband?

“OK, cool,” he said. “Yeah they loved it. They thought it was cute, but they didn’t know the real reason for it.”

The Hannaryz face a major early season test this weekend, playing host to the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings (5-1 through Sunday) in Muko, Kyoto Prefecture.

Warren doesn’t plan to switch back to one of his older (nonpink) headbands for the marquee showdown.

“I plan to wear it the next couple of games against Okinawa as well,” he said.

You’ve got to admire the reason behind that decision.