Do you remember when Yuta Tabuse (pronounced you-TA ta-BOO-say) played in the NBA? Do you even know who Tabuse is? If you were a fan of the 04/05 Phoenix Suns with Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire, then you probably know very well who the 5’8″, 165-pound back up to Nash was.
After a couple of decent runs with the Mavs and Nuggets in the NBA summer league and a feature on NBA TV’s ‘Real Training Camp’, the Phoenix Suns — a team with a player from Canada, Brazil, Serbia and Poland — made Tabuse the first Japanese-born player in NBA history. The hype of his arrival was far from Linsanity but much bigger than the arrival of Jeremy Lin — first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the league — six years later. According to the Suns, Tabuse set a record for daily views to a players page on NBA.com, doubling Kobe Bryant and LeBron James from the previous year. By the time he made his NBA debut on November the 3rd, his Suns jersey was the third best selling one.
33 media members from Japan attended his NBA debut and watched him put up a career-high of 7 points (1-3 fg, 4-4 ft) and 1 assist in 10 minutes of garbage time at the end of a 40-point beatdown on the Hawks. For his encore, 30+ media members from across the world applied for credentials, hoping to see him play against the Nets. Since the game was another 30+ point blowout, Tabuse got in for 3 minutes of action, enough time to get 2 boards and 2 assists.
A right quadriceps strain prevented us from cheering Tabuse for 16 games. In his return, he went scoreless with two rebounds in two minutes.
His fourth and final game, on December 15th of 2004, was a donut in two minutes of a 22-point win against the Utah Jazz. Three days after the game, the red-hot (21-3 record) Suns activated center Jackson Vroman and waived the fan favorite.
“I am very grateful to the Suns and their fans for the opportunity here.” Said Tabuse, who averaged 1.8 points, 1.0 rebound and 0.8 assists in 4.3 minutes over the four games. “I am disappointed that I will not be able to continue to be part of this team, but I have learned that I belong on this level. I am looking forward to continuing my career and building on my NBA experience.”
His time with the Suns earned him a cover on the Japanese version of NBA Live 06 and a shot with the Elton Brand-era Clippers. He was waived before the start of the season.
After bouncing around D-League and Summer league teams for a couple more years, he returned to Japan and went on to win a championship and Finals MVP in 2010.