Your chances of ever playing in the NBA are minuscule if you're shorter than 5'10" ( Denver's Earl Boykins is currently the lone exception) or the product of a Division II college (there are seven in the 360-player league) or from a basketball backwater like Japan (which has delivered precisely zero players to the NBA).
If you have the misfortune to be all of these things at once--a 5'8" Japanese man who played a single season at Brigham Young-Hawaii--your lifelong dream of making the NBA is worse than ridiculous. It's downright sad.
"Yes," agrees Yuta Tabuse, a diminutive Don Quixote from Japan. "Everyone said that to me. I didn't listen."
Which is how the 5'8" Tabuse (pronounced ta-BOO-say) earned a roster spot as a backup point guard for the Phoenix Suns last week, at which time the 24-year-old announced that his next ambition is simply to remain with the Suns: "To be allowed on the bench throughout the season." (On Monday, Tabuse was placed on the injured list with a strained right quadriceps.) This is his idea of NBA trash talk? "No, we don't do that in my country," says Tabuse. "It is rude."
All Japanese humility off the court, Tabuse is a one-man Rucker tournament on it. It's a disarming combination. His no-look passes say Yo Mama, while his birth certificate reads Yokohama.
"Asian players are usually very mechanical," says Tabuse's college coach, Ken Wagner. "Yuta plays with a lot of creativity."
Tabuse acquired his playground flair without benefit of a playground. "In Japan there are no basketball courts on--how to say--the street," he says. "We only have them indoors." So he learned basketball as some people learn to cook: from TV. "I tried to be like Magic Johnson with the no-look passes," he says.
He was already his nation's most famous basketball player as a teenager, when he led Noshiro Kogyo High to three consecutive national championships. "Yuta, in Japan, is like Freddy Adu in the U.S.," says Japanese writer Yoko Miyaji, Tabuse's biographer. "He's the country's one superstar in what is, nationally, a minor sport."
Tabuse went to BYU-H even though his only tie to Mormonism is a first name that sounds like Utah. "The NBA," confirms Wagner, "was his dream when he arrived."
But Tabuse's college career was inauspicious to say the least: "First year," says Tabuse, "I redshirt. Second year, I have herniated disk." He didn't play a game until his third year, when he finished sixth in D-II in assists, after which he left to pursue his dream with the Toyota Alvark of the Japanese Basketball League and the Long Beach Jam of the American Basketball Association. Last year Tabuse was cut from the Nuggets during training camp but took inspiration from the 5'5" Boykins.