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Hana Kuma: The Sport of Storytelling

Naomi Osaka is writing more than just her legacy. Thanks to her new production company, Hana Kuma, the likes of LeBron James and Maverick Carter are amplifying new narratives to a broad audience.

The story of Naomi Osaka might start with tennis, but it sure doesn’t end there.

More than an athlete in every sense of the phrase, Osaka became a boss by starting her own agency, Evolve. Much like her late mentor, Kobe Bryant, the 25-year-old talent has taken charge of her empire and her narrative.

It’s with the ethos of collaboration and storytelling that Osaka and her business partner, Stuart Duguid, launched Hana Kuma: a joint venture production company with LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

Learning lessons from what the accomplished Akronites have done at Uninterrupted, the tennis tandem at Evolve have joined forces with SpringHill to create content that’s both personal and high-level.

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Since starting in June, Hana Kuma has already released a documentary and a book. At the center of each story has been Osaka, taking her passions and interests to canvases beyond clothing.

“Hana Kuma is built for Naomi, designed by Naomi, and inspired by Naomi,” Carter told Boardroom. “Which means it will tell stories that are self-aware and innovative at the same time, just like she is.”

So far, those stories include this year’s documentary, MINK!, which profiles Patsy Mink, a Title IX trailblazer.

Profiling the Japanese-American agent of change who went on to win a seat in the House of Representatives, Naomi’s first film project at Hana Kuma speaks to the type of storytelling Carter alluded to.

It also speaks volumes considering Osaka’s age.

“Naomi was very successful in using her amazing tennis to propel her career both on and off the court,” Billie Jean King told Boardroom. “We can’t forget that she won four Slams, was the first Japanese player to win a major and was the first Asian No. 1.”

For King, a fellow tennis champion and advocate for gender equity, the work of Patsy Mink hits home as does the due diligence done by the much younger, yet still striving, Osaka.

“As the top earner in all of women’s sports these last few years I think Naomi has really done a lot to break down barriers for female athletes,” King said. “I know gender equality is especially important to her and I was very pleased to see her as executive producer on MINK! about Patsy Mink and Title IX.”

Thus far, Hana Kuma is only in its infancy, announced just months ago in June.

Already, the team that LeBron, Maverick, Naomi, and Stuart assembled has raised significant capital from investors in order to make movies and more happen. The savvy folks at SpringHill and Evolve have leveraged their networks to tell stories in a fashion that maximizes all resources at their disposal.

“If company X invests in the company, it also guarantees a minimum spend to activate with the company,” Stuart said. “Therefore, everyone’s a winner. They’re incentivized to use our production company to make the content and that will in turn help the value for them, which leads to a greater return on their investment.”

While bigger, broader stories are sure to take flight from Hana Kuma in 2023, they’re closing out their first few months of existence strong.

This week alone, Naomi has taken MINK! to the US Capitol, with Patsy’s daughter, Wendy, in attendance. Getting the story of a Title IX trailblazer in front of the nation’s decision-makers means a lot, but Osaka’s audience isn’t merely politicians and adults.

Fans line up to meet Naomi Osaka who celebrates her new book “The Way Champs Play” at Barnes & Noble at The Grove on Dec. 08, 2022 in Los Angeles, C!. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, the tennis titan released her first children’s book, The Way Champs Play. From in-store signings to appearances on The Today Show, Osaka is making the rounds on the media circuit with the same work ethic and authenticity that make her a fan favorite on the court.

“Stuart, Carly, and Naomi, work very smart and very hard,” Carter said.

Multiply the power of that trio with the talents of LeBron James and Maverick Carter?

Better get your popcorn ready.

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About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.
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