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Tennis Superstar NAOMI OSAKA Lands The September Issue of WSJ

WSJ Magazine presents the show-stopping September 2020 issue with Tennis Superstar NAOMI OSAKA – have the first look of the accompanying shoot as well as Naomi’s interview with WSJ

Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.
Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

WSJ‘s September 2020 cover star is one of the most successful new sport stars on the planet – Naomi Osaka along her tennis superstar status is also one of the highest paid sportswomen on the field. In reports coming from Forbers magazine according Naomi earned $37.4 million last year ranking her as one of the top earners in sports globally.

For the cover story of WSJ. Magazine’s September 2020 issue Naomi was photographed by Micaiah Carter with styling from Jessica Williams.

Earlier this year, after the murder of George Floyd with global outrage following, Osaka flew from LA to join the protests in Minneapolis and protested with the people at the street corner where Floyd was killed. Without telling anyone or announcing to the press, the only sign of her participation in the Black Lives Matter protests were a few photos she posted only for a moment on her social media to quickly remove them afterwards.

For WSJ Osak talked the BLM protests, discrimination, sports during covids as well as fashion collaborations in the works:

 

naomi osaka
Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

“I hate when random people say athletes shouldn’t get involved with politics and just entertain. Firstly, this is a human rights issue. Secondly, what gives you more right to speak than me? By that logic if you work at IKEA you are only allowed to talk about the ‘GRÖNLID?’” 

Osaka on attending the BLM protests: “Whenever I have a chance to see something for myself, I jump on it. I’ve always watched protests on TV, and I never had the chance to go because I was always playing tennis.”

Her visit to Minneapolis wasn’t about tennis or tennis fans or reporters asking her if she feels more American or Japanese. She and her boyfriend remained largely incognito, though Cordae was recognized a couple of times. “I’m not famous like that,” says Osaka, despite having already attained the rank of No. 1 in the world and this past year becoming the world’s highest-paid female athlete, thanks to deals with a broad range of brands including Nike, Mastercard, Shiseido and Top Ramen manufacturer Nissin Foods. She was able to move around the city for a couple of days, soaking everything in.

“Everyone was so passionate,” says Osaka. “There were constantly things going on and people talking to each other about who’s organizing this rally and things like that. I thought it was really powerful.”

Osaka on a handful of online critics who told her to stay in her lane.

“I hate when random people say athletes shouldn’t get involved with politics and just entertain. Firstly, this is a human rights issue. Secondly, what gives you more right to speak than me? By that logic if you work at IKEA you are only allowed to talk about the ‘GRÖNLID?’” 

naomi osaka wsj
Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

WSJ also talked to Serena Williams who defends Osaka:

“If you are an athlete and you don’t say something, there’s a problem,” 

She describes herself as a fan of Osaka’s, though the two are opponents on court and Osaka had the break of her career by beating Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open final. “I’m always rooting for her. She’s shy—or at least she’s shy around me—but I’d love to talk more.”

Osaka on facing discrimination:

 “It’s a general way people treated me, but also I was representing Japan. So it kind of came from everywhere…. I might get in trouble for saying this, but eventually I’m going to have to talk about it,” she says about her feelings of exclusion. “The issues of America don’t really translate that well in Japan, so sometimes they do blackface and things like that, and it’s a bit ignorant…. It’s not really a hate thing.” (Black people are a tiny minority in Japan, with some estimates as low as 0.02 percent of the population, versus 13.4 percent in the U.S.)

“I’m just trying to put a platform out for all the Japanese people that look like me and live in Japan and when they go to a restaurant, they get handed an English menu, even though it’s just a little microaggression,” says Osaka.

naomi osaka
Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

Yet Osaka remembers playing against a Japanese opponent when she was about 10, in the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship in Florida. “She was talking with another Japanese girl, and they didn’t know that I was listening [or that] I spoke Japanese. Her friend asked her who she was playing, so she said Osaka. And her friend says, ‘Oh, that Black girl. Is she supposed to be Japanese?’ And then the girl that I was playing was like, ‘I don’t think so.’”

“I remember that specifically because, yeah, I sometimes feel like a lot of people think that way about me.”

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Osaka on winning and losing:

“When I win, my mind thinks, This is what I was supposed to do. So I don’t celebrate,” says Osaka, who adds that when she loses, “I’m really hard on myself.

“There are moments where I don’t know how to handle [the pressure] that well,” she says. “And I feel like I learned so much from that moment that I can only keep going. I really don’t like [it], but I just know it’s making me a better player in the end.”

On the impact Kobe Bryant’s mentorship had on Osaka, the magazine spoke to Osaka’s agent and manager, Stuart Duguid:

“She said, ‘I found the challenge is not getting to No. 1 but staying there,’” says Duguid, who has always thought of Osaka as an athlete who can transcend tennis, and with that in mind, arranged an introduction to Kobe Bryant in June of last year.

naomi osaka
Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

“I’m basically training all the time, I don’t get bored, because I feel like every day I’m taking a step to becoming a better player. And I feel myself getting stronger. And there’s also this anticipation—I don’t know what everyone else is doing. When tennis does come back, I want to do the best.”

As soon as Duguid reached out, Bryant invited Osaka to meet with him the next morning at his Orange County facility. “She came back to the car and said, ‘That was the most productive meeting I’ve had in my life,’” says Duguid.

Osaka on Bryant’s thoughtfulness and impact:

Osaka and Bryant kept in touch during the final months of his life. “There would be some really tough losses,” says Osaka. “I didn’t even know he was paying attention, but he would text me positive things and tell me to learn from it. For me, it was definitely helpful.”

Bryant helped Osaka find greater confidence, and the two also found common ground in their charitable pursuits. For Osaka these include supporting a school her father helped found in Jacmel nearly 20 years ago, designing and selling face masks in support of Unicef and launching Play Academy with Naomi Osaka (in conjunction with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good), an initiative to encourage girls in Japan—and eventually the world over—to take up sports.

Osaka on her daily training routine: 

“I’m basically training all the time, I don’t get bored, because I feel like every day I’m taking a step to becoming a better player. And I feel myself getting stronger. And there’s also this anticipation—I don’t know what everyone else is doing. When tennis does come back, I want to do the best.”

Image ©MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

On Fashion collaborations with Comme des Garçons and Adeam:

 “Even though Naomi is an athlete, her sense of fashion is not just sporty. She has a high-fashion mindset,” shared with WSJ Adeam creative director Hanako Maeda. “Her style is feminine, but also has this casualness to it.” The draped, conceptual pieces are inspired by traditional Japanese design as well as fashion sketches that Osaka drew with her sister, Mari. Says Maeda, “Even though she’s an international superstar and champion, she has this sense of humility about her.”

Image MICAIAH CARTER for WSJ. Magazine.

“[Naomi] is serious and full of ideas and passionate about everything she does,” says Adrian Joffe, the president of Comme des Garçons International, a brand designed by Joffe’s wife, the reclusive Rei Kawakubo, whose pieces Osaka has worn at several public appearances. When they met, “Rei was drawn to her thoughtfulness and sensitivity,” Joffe says.

Read the full interview and see more of the shoot on WSJ.com.

All images and interview preview courtesy of WSJ.

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