What I thought I knew about basketball before going to this live game could probably have been written on a very small piece of paper.
However, as the game tipped off, I soon discovered that I knew more than I realised as memories came flooding back of playing ‘Basket Master‘ on the old Amstrad CPC464 computer and even playing it in PE lessons where I was once sent off (a rarity in school) for consistent fouling! My only other knowledge of basketball is of the Nike Air Jordan era and hearing occasional snippets about the Leicester Riders basketball team back home who I know have had a very successful recent history in the British Basketball League (BBL).
In recent months I have been sampling a few new live sports such as horse racing and ice hockey and this time it was basketball and what better occasion to start than the B1-B2 Play Off Final match to decide if Yokohama could keep their place in the top league or Hiroshima could get promoted at their expense. Having switched teams in baseball a couple of years ago it was a no-brainer that I would be on the side of Hiroshima Dragonflies as that city is where my father-in-law is proudly from.
Now I’m no stranger to Play Off Finals having been to see Leicester City in them four times between 1992 and 1996. Thankfully this was a way more relaxed occasion without the tenseness of those critical matches where the difference in winning and losing is worth millions and millions of pounds. This basketball play off final may not have been financially as important but there was still a lot riding on it. For the record, it actually used to be called the BJ League but that bizarre name must have left a bad taste in the mouths of many and now it is known simply as the B-League.
Yoyogi National Gymnasium played host to the game and it is a place which I have been to a couple of times; once to see Oasis in late 2005 and then again in 2011 for the ‘Walk Don’t Run‘ (1967) filming locations. Please note that the shots above were taken after the match!
Jack managed to get us some tickets (3000 yen each) and, fearing the unreserved seating system (overly abused in Japan with people arriving early and spreading a few items across many seats), we arrived well over two hours before the start. We managed to get our cans of beer past the usual lackadaisical baggage check on the ticket gates and took our seats right in the middle along the side. A great vantage point!
Just over five thousand people were there to witness the Kanagawa-based side open the scoring within seconds of the tip-off. Hiroshima failed to reply immediately on their first attack which led to Yokohama scoring again and from there on in it was pretty much a case of playing catch-up as they gradually stretched their lead. Hiroshima narrowed the gap to 30-26 by the half time whistle and I was hopeful of a comeback in the last two quarters but it never materialised as Yokohama pounced early on with some points to dispel any chance of a tight finish.
There were a few foreigners plying their trade with the stand-out one being Yokohama’s American import Jason Washburn who bossed the match (as well as his teammates and the crowd too!) racked up almost double the points of anyone else on the court. The other player of note was down to his number. I never realised anyone wore the number 0 in any sport!
Most of the crowd were on the side of Yokohama due to the closer proximity of that team to Tokyo and the atmosphere was very much of the fabricated sort which has crept into football over the last decade or two. The sound system pumped out a drum beat whilst the game was in action and car horn noises were used to indicate fouls (I think!) which gave me the opportunity to dig up a past hobby of yesteryear by saying “Pardon me!” each and every time as Richard Richard and I used to do back in Australia many, many years ago.
You can hardly pause for breath during the 4 x 10 minute quarters of a basketball match. It really is end to end stuff and so incredibly fast paced that I kind of understand why Americans can’t get into the far slower, low scoring game of football or soccer as they call it!
Final Score: Yokohama B-Corsairs 74-53 Hiroshima Dragonflies
Click here to read ‘My First…Basketball Game’ on the Rambling Northerner blog