Mizuho Nishio has been many places and met many people, but one stands out: He once got an invitation out of the blue for a one-on-one with Karl Malone.
The Mailman doesn’t do many interviews these days, but two years ago, his wife, Kay Malone, reached out to Nishio, a 43-year-old Japanese illustrator, when she saw his portrait work of the 14-time All-Star posted on Instagram. She asked him if he would want to meet him at one of his car dealerships.
Nishio, who lives in Tokyo, jumped at the chance.
The two men talked for a half-hour — a veritable lifetime for Malone — and it took Nishio back to when he first started rooting for the Jazz, drawn by the aesthetics of Stockton-to-Malone.
“Over 20 years ago, I saw John Stockton and Karl Malone on TV,” he said. “They played such beautiful pick and roll. Since then, I’ve been for the Jazz.”
Nishio is not only well-known to the Malones, but to many Jazz fans who inhabit social media. He does pencil drawings of NBA players, which he then colors in on his tablet and posts to social media, prints on paper or canvas, adorns on a T-shirt — or all of the above. With nearly 4,000 Twitter followers and 2,700 Instagram followers, he nurtures a small but loyal fan base, which shares his works far beyond his studio in Tokyo.
Several times a year, Nishio (a freelance illustrator by trade) comes to the United States to watch the Jazz in person. He also attended the All-Star Game and watched Donovan Mitchell win the Slam Dunk Contest. It takes dedication to be an NBA fan in Japan, particularly a fan of the small-market Jazz, but he makes it work.
“It’s pretty minor in Japan,” he said, laughing. “But we have some viewing parties in Tokyo. It’s maybe 10 guys.”
While he’s been a fan of the Jazz for more than two decades, Nishio first came to visit Utah roughly eight years ago on assignment with a Japanese media outlet. He presented Wesley Mathews and Mehmet Okur with portraits he had drawn of them. Mathews later asked him to make a custom artwork of him: a 30-inch portrait of Mathews as the movie character from the superhero film “Hancock.”
It started a succession of relationships and requests: He’s done custom work for Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and a number of other NBA stars. He usually does portraits of new Jazz players every year that he shares on his social media account, and he also depicts Jazz players as comic book characters or anime characters. He did a Spiderman crossover for Donovan Mitchell, and gave him a shirt earlier this season.
Visiting only a few times a year, it’s difficult for Nishio to form strong relationships with people in the NBA, but he has a few Jazz staffers in his corner. Antonio Lang, who played and coached professionally in Japan, is a friend: On Friday afternoon, Nishio brought him a bag of wasabe- and tea-flavored treats from overseas to Lang’s delight.
Nishio has a 3-year-old son, so he’s still young to embrace his father’s love of Jazz basketball. But he has hope that he’ll pick it up.
“I’m trying to bring my wife and the kids next time,” he said.