This is a feature I might do from time to time. Basically, I'll be featuring former Thunder players who have decided to go international, give a quick glimpse as to how their career there is going, and assess whether they will ever come back to the NBA.
Up first is one of the most startling presences on our first season sideline, Robert Swift.
You may remember Robert Swift as the guy who at at the end of the bench. You know, that 7 foot 1 guy with long red hair, black fingernails, and more tattoos than everyone else on the team combined. Compared to the squeaky-clean image the Thunder were and are trying to convey, he was definitely not who the Thunder would like to feature on their game night programs.
But, he never really got the opportunity to shock the minds of soccer moms everywhere. His tenure with the Thunder was spent mostly on the bench. He saw some playing time in the Carlesimo Era, as well as during January of the Brooks era. But the Thunder were having a terrible season, and Swift didn't show he could do much more than rebound. As a result, he was cut midway through the second season after a 2 game farce with the Bakersfield Jam.
But, his basketball career didn't end there. After sitting out the rest of the 2009-2010 season and almost quitting basketball altogether, Robert Swift re-entered the world of basketball and decided to take his talents to Tokyo, so he could play for the world-famous Apache.
Below: Robert Swift's Adventures in Japan!
Why? Though I thought it might be because he's a anime addict or something, it's actually because Bob Hill, the coach of the Supersonics when he was drafted, is coaching the Apache. How did Bob Hill end up there? Well, his tenure as the Sonics' coach was marred by injury-ridden teams and puzzling draft moves, so he's looking to make a name for himself by heading over to Japan. A US hedge fund recently purchased the Apache, explaining their sudden ability to sign on guys like Swift and Hill.
You can see the whole Tokyo Apache story in the video below:
The team of Japanese All-Stars initially got off to a horrible start this season, going 1-4 over their first 5 games, before winning three straight to climb back to .500. Swift's numbers have been limited, because he only plays 21 minutes a game, but he has averaged a rather solid 12 Points and 7 Rebounds. Now, when I say solid, I mean that those numbers are solid for the Japanese league. In broader terms he should be able to do a little better, considering he's only the fifth best scorer on his team, but it is reasonable considering that he has to deal with players of a similar caliber.
But his chances of returning to the NBA are low, at best. I could see him on a Summer League team at some time in the future, or even on a D-League roster. But what he's doing right now in Japan isn't indicative of him making it back to the next level. Not to mention the fact that Japan is below many European Domestic leagues, the CBA (China), and the NBL (Australia) in terms of talent. It is early in the season though, so anything could happen.
However, if he does stay in Japan, I could see him taking a role similar to the role taken by Jason Dixon in the CBA. Dixon was a Center who played for China's perennial championship team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers. He was originally from Liberty University, and he didn't have an NBA level of talent, but he was good enough to be a star in China before teams started signing washed up old guys like Stephon Marbury to big contracts. He helped develop interest in China for basketball, and he helped the Chinese players to learn to play a NBA-styled game. Obviously, the Japanese league is swimming with lower-tier college players who are looking to make a quick buck playing in Japan or raise their profile. But Robert Swift is an echelon above those guys, and if he does decide to stay in Japan for an extended career, he could be an integral part in putting Japan on the World Basketball Map. Or I could be just getting way too ahead of myself. Probably the latter.
But, until he becomes official basketball ambassador to Japan, enjoy the Pre-Season Tokyo Apache Hype Video Below:
We will definitely be checking in with Robert Swift again sometime soon.