|Manga Debut||Chapter 1|
|Anime Debut||Episode 1|
|Japanese Voice||Takeshi Kusao|
|English Voice||Robert Tinkler|
Bambam Labalan (TV-5 Dub)
Neil Yu (GMA Dub)
|[v · t · e]|
Hanamichi Sakuragi (桜木 花道 Sakuragi Hanamichi) is the main protagonist of the series. At the beginning of the series, Sakuragi is a slacker, good for nothing other than fighting delinquent, who's the leader of the feared "Sakuragi Legion" (Hanamichi's Army in the English Dub), which consists of his four friends Mito, Noma, Ohkusu and Takamiya. Sakuragi's quest for love is nothing but humiliating. He is always trying to ask girls out, but is rejected constantly, the fiftieth rejection occurring at the start of the series. He then met Haruko Akagi, a lovely and friendly basketball fangirl, whom he fell in love with, immediately. Haruko's encouragement led to him to join the Shohoku basketball team. However, as a complete beginner, he is not able to keep up with the rest of the team at first, despite his physical attributes (great height, athleticism, stamina, speed and leaping ability). With just 4 months, he has become a fully realized basketball player and is now considered a player that Shohoku cannot afford to lose.
Throughout the manga, he is very short tempered, arrogant and aggressive. He begins regarding himself as a "Genius", even though he has not learned any skills. He also brags himself as the "Rebound King" when his rebounding ability has just started to surface, which was accepted and considered as valid. His most recognizable trait is his red hair and shaves it as reparation for an error that led to a loss in the interhigh tournament against Kainan.
He is not the type to accept loss. His persistence started to get into Fukuda when he was totally outplayed at the 1st half of their game though, it was just settled during the practice match against the combined team of Shoyo and Ryonan.
Sakuragi has a habit of making fun of other players by giving nicknames other than their names. He calls Akagi "gorilla or gori" (causing other people to mimic - much to Akagi's irritation), Uozumi "Boss monkey", Kiyota "Wild monkey", Maki "Uncle or Senior", Masahiro "Totem pole", Masashi Kawata "Bald Gori", Mikio Kawata "Meatball", Miyamasu "Alien" and Fujima "substitute". Despite this, the only one doing the same thing to Sakuragi is Kiyota who calls him "red haired monkey". The only one who was not given a nickname by him is Kaede Rukawa who he considers as his rival in basketball and in Haruko.
In spite of the setbacks he has had to face, Sakuragi displays a great deal of tenacity and determination that carry him through and help reciprocate for his other failings, both on and off the court. He also knows how to carry a will of a teammate. These was shown when he told Kogure of postponing his retirement for a while because of him who is a genius.
Although his love for Haruko and rivalry with Rukawa are the main driving forces motivating him to succeed in basketball, his injury during the Sannoh match made him realize that he has actually come to love the game, leading him to give his all for the team and bring them victory.
At first, he can only do dunks and lay-ups but under Akagi's training, his rebounding prowess became the main support for the team, which earned him another nickname now known throughout all of the Kanagawa prefecture because of this, "The king of Rebounds". Then with Coach Anzai's training, he is able to finish 20,000 shots in a week to further improve his shooting range. Despite this, Mito notes that standing at 45 degrees to the right gives Sakuragi higher success rate at shooting jump shots.
Jumping Power and Rebounding
As seen and witnessed by Haruko and Hikoichi, the skills Sakuragi really excels at is his jumping, speed and power. Masashi Kawata of Sannoh notes that he has never seen a person with that kind of leg power. The height of his jump is incredibly high as noted by Coach Takato of Kainan High, as he was able to jump back to block Sawakita's dunk attempt and stop the alley-oop to Masashi, despite falling to the floor. His jumping ability makes him a formidable rebounder under the tutelage of Akagi. With this, he is more than enough to outrebound strong centers such as Toru Hanagata, Jun Uozomi and Masahiro Nobe of Sannoh. Coach Domoto was even forced to put Masashi Kawata into him just to stop him from rebounding. Despite the obstacle put upon him, he is still able to hold on to his rebounding against the big men of Sannoh, which became as one the key factors that Shohoku made a comeback victory.
He gained his abnormal strength from his fights as a delinquent and some power training that hardened him before playing basketball. Akagi notes that Sakuragi is much stronger than Jun Uozumi of Ryonan despite being smaller. This was shown when he easily threw Koshino Hiroaki of Ryonan in their practice game, when the latter attempted to take the ball from him. He is also noted for being strong as Akagi says that in a battle of strength, no one can beat him. He is able to hold his own against Mikio Kawata who weighs 130 kg.
Speed and Stamina
Beside his jumping power and strength, he is also fast as he can catch up to defend, combined with his large amount of stamina. These were tested when Totsuka Tetsuya of Ryokufu High School challenged him in a battle of speed. However Sakuragi's stamina got the best of the latter as he tires out first while Sakuragi continues to run back and forth.
Sakuragi has difficulty facing off against a weak opponent as he is unable to show his true skills and abilities. Mito notices this when Yoshinori Miyamasu of Kainan subs in as Sakuragi starts to miss shots. Another weakness of Sakuragi for the majority of the series is that his shooting presence was not highly accurate which changed just before the Nationals. He is also a weak on-ball defender and can easily fall for fakes. His arrogance and daydreaming often cause the ball to hit his face while in a game, leaving him unaware of a pass. This is also the main reason he doesn't succeed in his plots and always end up being an embarrassment for the team.
Sakuragi's love for Haruko makes him a better player as well as a person throughout the series. However, she does not reciprocate his feelings until the end of the manga, during the Sannoh game as she comes to check on his back. He is initially taken aback by her big crush on Rukawa, but still tries to win her by motivating himself to learn more on basketball. It is implied that she began to like him at the end.
The two players are polar opposites of one another. But Rukawa is pretty much what Sakuragi wants to be: skillful in basketball and popular with women. While the two do not like each other, Rukawa appreciates Sakuragi's hustle and determination to play, as noted when Rukawa intentionally fouled to have Sakuragi check back in to the court. The two's resolve came when Rukawa made the game winning assist to Sakuragi as Shohoku won against Sannoh.
Takenori is Haruko's older brother and the captain of the basketball team. Sakuragi's initial encounter with Takenori was terrible and awkward at first when he headbutted both players upon his arrival especially during the one on one basketball duel where Sakuragi embarassed him in shame and defeating him physically by shooting the ball in a slam dunk to knock him down until he realizes it was Haruko's older brother. Sakuragi does its best to apologize for his previous actions despite his faults as Takenori accepted his apology due to his sister's request. In every practice game or the entire basketball game whenever Sakuragi does his troublemaking antics to his teammates, other players from other schools especially coaches such as Moichi Taoka and showing his level of arrogance. Takenori is often seen punching directly on Sakuragi's head. This also applies to Shinichi Maki from Kainan when he punches Kiyota's head whenever he does troublemaking antics and the embarassment towards his teammates. He also punches Sakuragi's head multiple times when he made a prank by putting a black mark all over his face using the black permanent marker. Overall, Sakuragi still respects him as his Captain or addresses him as Gori.
Sakuragi has a few rivals in both anime and movies and his rivals are similar to his personality as well as his troublemaking antics and being fouled out in the game with the exception of both Oda and Fukuda who outplays him in the first half of the game against Ryonan.
Rango is the center player from team Tsukubu during the second movie. Rango meets Sakuragi after gaining a crush towards Haruko who practices basketball all by herself as he saves her ball by shooting the basketball dunk while in a motorcycle helmet. They started their rivalry when Sakuragi angrily headbutts him after seeing him had a crush on Haruko as he also headbutts him in retaliation after Sakuragi's friends discovered that Rango is able to withstand Sakuragi's headbutt just like both Rukawa and Akagi. During the best of 8 game before facing Shoyo, He makes fun out of Sakuragi while he's on the bench and later when he replaces Kogure to play the game, He and Sakuragi are seen bickering when they wanted to face Rukawa after the latter calls them two idiots. Sakuragi manages to get another rebound but knocking Rango to the ground results him in getting a fifth foul and ends up being fouled out. In the end of the movie, Rango congratulates them for winning as Haruko arrives to praise Sakuragi's team victory as both ends up fighting each other just for Haruko. In the anime series, Rango can be seen grunting when Sakuragi knocks him through the ground and gains him the fifth foul which it was seen in the second movie. Sakuragi also calls him as the "Golden-Haired Monkey" before team Tsukubu takes their time-out.
Oda is the center player from team Takezono and Sakuragi's rival in the first movie during the practice game between Takezono and Shohoku and also studies in the same middle school as Sakuragi along with his gang and Yoko Shimamura which is a 50th girl that Sakuragi ends up getting rejected due to her crush on Oda. Their rivalry can be very intense as seen in the movie where Oda angrily berates Sakuragi for his initial actions as a delinquent which Sakuragi initially dislikes about basketball or others are mentioning it until he notices Sakuragi's basketball potential when risking his life to save the ball from getting out of bounds several times much to the audience, players and all of Oda's female supporters' surprise despite they make fun of him during the first half of the practice game. In both Episodes 48 and 49 in the anime series, Sakuragi visits Takezono High along with his gang to visit Oda at night after hiding from his female supporters who are strictly guarding outside the school and notices his right ankle injury after getting slipped from a sweat on the floor during their basketball practice and also became worried to see Yoko upset when Oda secretly does not want to tell them about his ankle injury. Despite their support during their battle against Kainan, Sakuragi angrily scolds Oda for getting too much pride for himself in trying to beat Kainan and forgetting his own dreams with Yoko after he was collapsed from his ankle injury much to the Takezono players including their captain's shock and surprise. After Takezono lost to Kainan, Sakuragi finally ended their rivalry with Oda while telling him that they will settle their battle one day and also tells him to get over his ankle injury before Yoko tells him that she and Oda will give them support in their battle against Kainan much to the latter's disappointment.
Kiyota is another rival to Sakuragi and his troublemaking antics and his personality closely resembles to him in which he calls Sakuragi as the "Red-Haired Monkey" as the latter calls him as the "Wild Monkey". Both characters shared the same jersey #10 but their positions in playing basketball are different. They are trying to make a rival towards Rukawa. However, their antics cause both captains Akagi and Maki punch them to their heads and they apologized for the embarassment of both of their teams before the start of their basketball match. This also happens after the national eliminations in Kanagawa, where Sakuragi joins up with him and Maki to watch a basketball match between both Meioh and Aiwa in Aichi as both are seen bickering with each other when they met. Later after Meioh wins against Aiwa, he and Sakuragi are booing at Hiroshi Morishige and his teammates for their victory.
Fukuda became Sakuragi's rival when he wanted to challenge him to a basketball match by convincing one of his friends to challenge him but the latter refuses by headbutting them due to his depression after their loss against Kainan. In the match against Ryonan, he and Sakuragi challenged to a loop-sided match resulting in the 1st half where Sakuragi attempts to stop him for an alley-oop but failed as he was knocked off the ground. He tells him that he won and his injured forehead continues to bleed before they take him back on the bench. In the 2nd half, a persistent Sakuragi retaliates and managed to contain him though it was just settled in the practice match between Shohoku and the combined team of Shoyo and Ryonan.
Morishige is the super rookie from Meihou High School and also similar to Sakuragi who is also being fouled out in the game due to his physical immense strength and clumsiness of getting a technical foul when he's hanging on the ring after bumping both Aiwa players with a massive slam dunk. This raises Sakuragi's fighting spirit who wanted to challenge him after watching his match against Aiwa. In his case, he causes him to injure Aiwa's ace, Dai Moroboshi during their match due to his physical immense strength. After the game, Sakuragi intentionally bumps him (to test his physical strength) but ended getting knocked down on the ground, which raised his fighting spirit even more. Because of this, he became one of Sakuragi's goals in the Nationals, though their respective teams never met.
It has been mentioned in the anime about Hanamichi’s father, whom he calls old man had a heart attack, just as he arrived home. But Hanamichi couldn’t do anything for him because he was stopped by 8 high school students and was forced to fight. This delayed him and was unable to get an ambulance for his father. This flashback was shown after Coach Anzai had his heart attack, reminding Hanamichi of his past. As nothing was mentioned of his father after that, he is presumably dead.
- He could've broke the High School record in number of rebounds against Tsukubu High School if not called for a charging foul due to his physical contact with Koichirou Rango, which knocked the latter down the floor.
- Sakuragi is based on NBA player Dennis "The Worm" Rodman because of his rebounding and his dyed hair (it was red at one point). They both share the same jersey number. Rodman wore number 10 during his time with the Detroit Pistons and later on, the San Antonio Spurs. Rodman was a fierce defender while Sakuragi is somewhat a weak on-ball defender as he is easily thrown off with a feint. He was better at shooting and jumped higher than Rodman. The rebounding style of Rodman was different from that of Sakuragi’s who rebounded with his jumping ability, whereas Rodman get the rebounds using his physical mass or chipping the ball until he gets it. However, when he was matched up against Masahiro Nobe of Sannoh, he utilized his jumping power combined with chipping the ball and totally outrebounds the latter. The bigmen of Sannoh got a hard time rebounding because of him. Coach Anzai pointed this as his 'true ability'.
- There were many coincidences during Rodman’s career that paralleled Sakuragi’s journey through basketball. The Chicago Bulls were the counterparts of the Shohoku team, a clear reference since the two teams jerseys were completely identical. Rodman did play for the Bulls, but interestingly only began in 1996, which was the year “Slam Dunk” ended in. There was also an incident in the same year where Rodman headbutted referee Ted Bernhardt; a recurring gag throughout the series was Sakuragi’s deadly headbutt, used most often on his own gang or on his enemies whenever he's infuriated. Their personality changes were completely opposite. While Sakuragi has learned to control his temper on basketball as the series progresses, that was not the case for Rodman. Rodman changed completely into a bad boy that often get into on-court fights, always picking up technical fouls and gets ejected. His dyed hair and tattoos shows the complete change in his personality.
- Sakuragi's capabilities and drive to win have contradicted the predictions of Coach Taoka of Ryonan and Coach Domoto of Sannoh, which led to their teams' losses. Taoka disregarded him as a threat for he is just a mere beginner in basketball and considers him as a major weakness for Shohoku. Coach Domoto, on the other hand, disregarded him because he was hurting his back and would not be able to do more, which is supposedly a 5 on 4 situation in their favor. It is also because Domoto wanted to prevent Coach Anzai from having a timeout, which a substitution will surely be done.
- Sakuragi has similarities with Kuroko no Basuke's Taiga Kagami. Both are red-haired, jump high and wear the same jersey # 10. But Kagami is more skillful than Sakuragi as he can shoot anywhere and even shoot 3-pointers. Kagami also has signature skills due to the manga's concept, as every player has their very own signature skills. But Sakuragi has a stronger physique and stamina than Kagami.
- It is presumed that after the game against Sannoh, Coach Anzai didn't let him play against Aiwa because of his injury in the back. Because of his absence, Shohoku was easily trashed by Aiwa.