Interview: Tana from ballaholic Talks Being ‘Basketball Crazy’ in Japan
In their own words, ballaholic ‘eat, sleep, breathe and live’ basketball. Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, the zealous crew behind the brand are inspired by streetball, designing pieces for those who want to ‘play with style’. Basketball might not sit at the top of Japan’s sporting hierarchy, but ballaholic haven’t let societal structures define them, continuing to flaunt their streetball adoration loud and proud.
Fresh off the back of their first ever footwear collaboration with countrymen ASICS, we caught up with ballaholic’s creative director Tana to chat about the passion project, 90s hoops, and the brand’s impact on streetball in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Tana, thanks for the chat! First thing’s first. Who are your favourite basketball players from the 90s?
Although I do get some inspiration from the 90s, there’s really no specific player that I can call a favourite. Two players from other eras that I like are Pete Maravich and Jason Williams.
There’s definitely been a bit of comeback in terms of the 90s basketball aesthetic when it comes to sneakers. Do you think this was the best era in terms of sneaker design?
I have noticed that the designs and functionality of the sneakers have become much more refined than before. However, like all other clothing in fashion, as new items are created, it allows us to appreciate the classic sneakers even more, how original and special they were.
So it makes sense that there are new colourways and designs of the 90s sneakers, adjusted to the current trends. And, I personally love 90s basketball sneakers!
What do you think about the current trend of NBA trading cards? Was that a trend in Japan as well, and is it coming back?
I know that there was a period when NBA trading cards were popular in Japan. I had friends around me who collected them. But I’m not sure about now... I personally don’t know anybody around me who is currently into it.
Basketball, and especially streetball, has seen a huge comeback in some parts of the world, with brands investing heavily into building courts for kids, etc. What inspires you personally to help growing the basketball culture?
I can answer this by sharing my story. It all started when I realised that the basketball situation in Japan is different to other places in the world. I learned that other countries have an abundance of public basketball courts, people have hoops in the backyards, people play pick-up games regularly at parks, and streetball leagues are run during the summer. On the other hand, basketball in Japan was only played for the school team, many parks didn’t have basketball hoops, and people get mad if you dribble a basketball in public places.
Due to the lack of places to play, when I was young I re-shaped wire hangers into a ring shape, put a bunch of them together, glued it onto a big wooden board, and then hung it on a telephone pole so I could shoot around.
As I grew up, I learned of AND1 Mixtape and NY streetball. I was in awe. It was cool. It was filled with the different essences of basketball, as well as creativity. It was fresh to me. Back then, ‘streetball’ did not exist in Japan, and nobody knew about pick-up basketball. Japanese people are shy to start with, so they don’t talk to strangers and ask them to play together. Even now, there aren’t many courts in Japan where pick-up is played regularly.
I wanted to share that streetball is cool, and that’s why we started the streetball league SOMECITY in 2007 with our friends. But because Japanese parks wouldn’t let us use their courts, we had to rent out a night club, and lay our own court. Not a lot of space, so we were only able to play 3-on-3, but that was enough. And that’s where Japanese streetball started; it’s unique in that we find ANYWHERE that we can play, we put our own ring up, and hoop.
As we continued to do this, we got to meet many people, and now SOMECITY is held all over the country. We’ve held one in China and, in 2019, we held a tournament in Tokyo where we invited teams from around the world (China, LA, etc.) Due to COVID, we were not able to run a tournament last year, but that didn’t stop us from taking action. We thought about what we can do, and concluded that we want to create more places to hoop within Japan. It’ll be difficult to create more public courts, but we thought it’s possible to help make courts in yards of private homes. So we are currently in the process of starting up a new service, where we make courts for private customers.
Streetball’s potential is infinite, and we will continue to strive to be more cool, and to be more creative. ballaholic was started because we simply wanted to wear something that looks cool, and we have been able to make precious friendships around the world as a result. We truly believe that basketball enhances the quality of your life, and we will continue to take action to spread that message.
Now onto your latest collaboration with ASICS. Why did you choose the GELBURST 24 Low?
I wanted sneakers that can be worn fashionably off the court, but also for hooping once you lace them up. As I mentioned, Japan is unique in that the ‘school team’ dominates the basketball culture, and ASICS basketball shoes are like, unofficially, official sneakers for players playing for the ‘school team’. Also, they are mostly only worn for indoor courts. I wanted to change that.
I also wanted to break the image of ASICS basketball sneakers, and incorporate the ballaholic concept of ‘ALLDAY ALLNIGHT EVERYWHERE ANYWHERE’. Hence, I chose low-cut basketball sneakers with high performance, that are also easy to slip on, and are comfortable, so they can also be worn for everyday use.
What were the main aesthetic inspirations for the sneakers?
When choosing the colour palette, I took time to rethink our concept and reflect on our history. I realised that streetball has allowed me to make friends around the world, which led me to see a resemblance between a basketball and Earth. So, for the logo, I tilted the basketball 23.4 degrees – the tilt degree of Earth – and then added colours to the panels. I chose blue first, but I wanted to make it a special blue, so I chose it from the Pantone colour. Green, yellow, navy, and off-white were then added.
I also wanted to differentiate the GELBURST and the QUANTUMs, so had to go through numerous designs. Because GELBURST is a classic shoe for ASICS, I struggled with creating a new distinct vibe that was different than the ASICS basketball sneaker vibe.
What can we expect from you guys in the future? Any new projects coming up?
We are currently working on a collaboration with friends outside of Japan, and will release info very soon! We are also planning other global projects, and are working on ways to better reach our global customers. Not just products, we are also putting effort on photos and other mediums to share streetball. We will continue to challenge and find different ways to share the joy of this game, so be ready!
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