Japan team hires first female coach

Japan’s track record for shattering the glass ceiling for working women is a short one. But on Thursday, another crack was made when a female was named head coach for the first time in Japan’s professional basketball league.

The Saitama Broncos said they promoted Natalie Nakase to head coach from assistant, making the California native the first woman to head a team in Japan’s professional basketball league. The 31-year-old replaces Dean Murray, who was abruptly suspended earlier this week and then fired for violating his contract. A team spokeswoman declined to comment on the specifics of the breach.

Naming a female head coach in the Japan league may not be as earth-moving as if the headlines were about the NBA in the US. The league is young, small and considered a sideline sport in Japan, where baseball, sumo and now soccer are favorites.

Still, countries and leagues aside, it is a notable step in the greater sports universe in which a female boss overseeing a professional men’s team is a rare sight.

There have been many theories put forth for the paucity of women leaders in men’s sports, and other arenas for that matter, that ultimately go back to gender stereotypes — women lack assertiveness, men will not be able to listen to a woman in power, women are too emotional.

Nakase, a former point guard at UCLA who stands 5-foot-2, said she is assertive enough, the men listen to her and she has learned to control her emotions.

"When I was coaching girls, I’d get on them and get really upset at times," she said in an interview with JRT on Thursday. "And they couldn’t stabilize their emotions. Whereas, with men, I could yell at them and they could get mad at me, but the next day they’ve moved on. The women would hold grudges with me for a month. For me, it’s great that men can forget about an emotion or situation that happened."

A spokeswoman for the Saitama Broncos, a team that has never finished above fourth place in the Basketball Japan League’s 10-team eastern conference, said Nakase was the only candidate under consideration to fill the top slot. Nakase, who does not speak Japanese, joined the team earlier this year as assistant coach.

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