First created in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a physical education professor and instructor at the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School (YMCA) (today, Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts (USA), it was first introduced to Japan in 1893 by Genzabaro Ishikawa.
The total time of a single match is 40 minutes, which is divided into two rounds of 20 minutes each. Each round starts with a jump ball that determines ball possession. The referee oversees the game and determines when and what foul is to be called, as well as passing players the ball before a free-throw.
Respective teams have back-up players in addition to the five starter players, or the starting line-up, who stay on the team's respective side of the court and watch the game from benches provided. Their main role is to act as a substitute in case of an injury or if a main player is not performing well. Some of these players are skilled (Fujima) , but may not play from the start of the match to conserve their strength or because the strategy does not call for it. However, the less skilled players (usually first years lacking raw talent or experience) often find themselves in the shadow of the better players and spend most (Yasuda), if not ALL of their time (Hikoichi) sitting at the bench spectating (hence the impolite term "bench warmer"). Students not in the team but from the same school are almost always seen cheering for their school's team thorughout the story.
In-game, players are expected to cooperate with one another, but instances where two opposing players "duel" against each other occur occasionally as well. Individual play can be team-oriented, such as often making passes; or more "selfish", with significantly less passing and a higher tendency to show-off their skills with a flashy move such as a dunk.
Violations, Fouls and Free-throws
Players can use a variety of techniques in play. The main practices present in every basketball game are:
These practices are categories by themselves, and there is a large range of movements that fall under them. For example, shooting can refer to jump-shots and lay-ups ; lay-ups can be further split into variations like the finger roll (or the commoner's shot, often used by Sakuragi who was a poor shooter) or tear drop (used by Sawakita)
A team consists of five players, with each player playing a different role. The different positions are:
- Center - Usually the tallest in the team, the center's role is to score or defend under the basket, as well as take jump balls. E.g. Takenori Akagi
- Power Forward - This position is very flexible, being able to play offensively or defensively under the basket and are responsible for catching rebounds. E.g. Hanamichi Sakuragi
- Small Forward - They are the most versatile of all positions, being of the same height as a PF except faster. E.g. Kaede Rukawa
- Shooting Guard - Shorter but faster than the forwards, they are the team's most accurate shooter and are relied on to make three-pointers. E.g. Hisashi Mitsui
- Point Guard - Fastest in the team, they determine the play by controlling the ball and leading the offense, as well as determine gameplay with complete understanding of the coach's strategy. E.g. Ryota Miyagi
Basketball players can either play offensively or defensively, depending on ball possession. Typical strategies are based on player positions on the court and assigning players to mark specific opponents. However, there were other "unconventional" strategies in the story, such as intentionally fouling a specific player; this is seen in the game between Shohoku and Kainan, where Sakuragi was fouled because he was bad at free throws (the real world counterpart to this is the Hack-a-Shaq strategy).
It is always better to have a well-rounded team who can play both defense and offense, so a wider range of tactics can be employed. Most of the teams are not particularly well-known for either defense or offense, and can play both. Shohoku's starting lineup was flexible, being able to put up a hard offense with Miyagi's fast breaks, yet also capable of defending under the post with Akagi's blocking and Sakuragi's rebounding.
The Toyotama team is a bad example, who was completely reliant on a "run-and-gun" style of offensive play. It was their one, and only, strategy (unless underhanded tactics are counted, like purposely injuring opposing players or excessive fouling to make them lose their cool), where the objective was to simply score more baskets than the other team. As such, Toyotama's defense suffered heavily, which brought about their downfall when their offense was brought to a stop by Shohoku's strong defense.