TOKYO -- Former NFL fullback Chris Hetherington is tackling a new career as president of a professional basketball team in Japan.
Hetherington was hired as president of the Tokyo Apache when Los Angeles-based investment firm Evolution Capital Management purchased the team in June.
The Apache defeated the Oita HeatDevils 98-85 in their homer opener on Jan. 7. The team is currently in third place in the six-team Eastern Conference with an 8-8 record.
Hetherington spent 11 seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.
After retiring from the NFL in 2006, Hetherington began working as a trader for Evolution, where he got to know founder and CIO Michael Lerch. When Lerch purchased the Apache in June, he asked Hetherington to be team president and the 38-year-old jumped at the opportunity.
"When I was in pro sports I was always interested in the management side of things," Hetherington said Friday at the team office in Tokyo. "We were at the Celtics-Lakers playoff game and Michael asked me if I wanted to run the team and I stopped trading the next day."
Basketball is gaining popularity in Japan but still lags far behind sports like baseball and football. Hetherington acknowledged the team has a lot of work to do to boost its fan base.
"We're trying to increase exposure," Hetherington said. "Baseball has guys like Ichiro and Matsui who go to the majors and there are a lot of soccer stars but not many guys go to the NBA so we're hoping to change that."
Yuta Tabuse, who had a brief stint with the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-05 season, is the only Japanese player to make it to the NBA so far.
Things haven't always gone smoothly for the new management. Because the Apache wanted to play all their homes game in one building, the team opened the season with a 12-game road trip.
When they did finally get to their home opener at the 3,000-seat Yoyogi Gymnasium, there were only 1,000 fans in attendance.
"We've made some mistakes early on," Hetherington said. "And we'll probably makes some mistakes going forward. But like everything in life, you learn from your mistakes. We're trying to establish credibility and respect and get our fans involved in the game."
The Apache has made some bold moves since being taken over by the American company.
The first was to hire Bob Hill, who served as the head coach of the New York Knicks (1986-87), Indiana Pacers (1990-93), San Antonio Spurs (1994-96) and Seattle SuperSonics (2006-07) and compiled a 310-293 record in the NBA.
Hill is the first former NBA coach in Japan's professional league.
The team also signed American teenager Jeremy Tyler, considered to be a potentially high NBA draft pick when he becomes eligible.