The Women’s National Basketball Association's (WNBA) Washington Mystics announced Japanese, Rui Machida, will join the team for the upcoming season in May. The announcement followed after Machida became one of four Mystics on a training camp contract who aimed to fill the open spot on the team roster for the 2022 season. The Washington, DC-based basketball team won the 2019 WNBA championship with a strong backcourt roster to support its offense. However, the team has been in search of a strong playmaking point guard since Kristi Toliver’s departure after the 2019 season.
Prior to Machida's move to the United States, she built a reputation in Japan as a point guard for the Fujitsu Red Wave and as a breakout player in the 2020 Olympics. Machida competed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics women’s basketball tournament as a standout member of Team Japan, which took the silver medal. During the 2020 Olympic basketball tournament, Machida also broke an Olympic single-game record of 18 assists in Japan’s semifinal upset match over France. At only 5’4", Machida brings speed and agility to the court with her up-tempo play style. In a press hearing, Head Coach Mike Thibault, stated, “She is one of the most dynamic point guards in the world and perfectly fits our style of play.”
Since the Mystics are a sister club of the National Basketball Association (NBA) team, the Washington Wizards, Machida will join fellow Olympian, Rui Hachimura in Washington, DC. Hachimura competed for Japan’s men’s basketball team during the Olympics and just finished his third season with the Wizards. Machida told Kyodo News she looks forward to seeing Hachimura stateside while he believes she will be a good fit in Washington, DC. The Washington Mystics also took to Twitter to mention Machida and share her first few days with the team following her arrival to Washington, DC. Following the Washington Mystics announcement, the Embassy of Japan in the United States also welcomed Machida to Washington, DC in a tweet and stated having another great Japanese athlete builds Japan-US ties through sport.
Indeed, Machida’s arrival strengthens the already strong connection between Japan and Washington, DC. Currently, Washington, DC hosts three Japanese gardens, 3,000 cherry blossom trees, and one of the 36 Japan-America Societies in the United States. Other Japanese athletes who have recently strengthened US-Japan connections by coming to the United States for their sport include baseball player Shohei Ohtani and basketball player Yuta Watanabe. Watanabe also played in Washington, DC when he played for the George Washington University Colonials as the third Japanese-born student athlete to receive an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship. Meanwhile, basketball player Ira Brown and baseball player Dennis Sarfate moved to Japan for their athletic careers. Although, these connections are not surprising considering the love Japan and the United States have for sports like basketball and baseball.
Mimi MacKilligan is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year graduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs with a double concentration in International Security Studies and Asia.