The timing was perhaps fortuitous when the Los Angeles Clippers played the Portland Trail Blazers before sold out crowds in Yokohama to begin the 1994 – 1995 NBA season. Just a few years prior, an appetite for the sport of basketball began to cultivate through Takehiko Inoue’s manga series Slam Dunk. A hoops junkie, Inoue used his work not only to introduce his readers to the rules of play, but also defensive schemes and even the art of the underhanded free throw. While the popularity of the sport has grown exponentially in the decades that followed, the pages of his comic remain the starting point for many a Japanese fan.
Basketball Bar Penetrate is an ode to the fandom that grew from Inoue’s now-classic series. Its sign, posted underneath a basketball hoop, is painted in Chicago Bulls’ red and black — the same colors worn by the home team in Slam Dunk. Its windows feature illustrations of various players from the series. Customers are welcomed by the series’ protagonist, Hanamichi Sakuragi, as an image of his face covers half of the front door. Homages to the manga continue once inside the bar, but are joined by sizeable amounts of basketball memorabilia seen on the bar’s walls and shelves.
The memorabilia belongs to the owner, who asks to be referred to as Morris. He’s proud to show off an autographed basketball from Kobe Bryant that sits above the liquor shelves. Also present are signed jerseys from the Evessa, Osaka’s home team for the Japanese B.LEAGUE and current workplace for former NBA center Josh Harrellson. Even the drink menu, which comprises of whisky, beer, and various highball cocktails, arrives in a Spalding Folder Portfolio, blending in with the theme of the bar.
Screens across the room play the NBA’s Game of the Week, with the option for one of the sets adjacent to the bar to replay any of the previous night’s contests. A conversation begins with Morris about the game itself. He admits that Slam Dunk is what got him interested in basketball, and smiles when learning I am also a fan of the series. As with many international fans, he does not follow any specific team, but instead roots for certain players — an attribute that can be credited to David Stern’s focus on selling the players as the brand. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are mentioned, along with plans to see a game at Madison Square Garden later this season.
I’m then asked if I’d like to take a shot. I respond by saying I am fine with my China Blue, but Morris clarifies, pointing towards a second room to the right of the bar. On the other side of that door: a rack of basketballs, a wall-length projection of the game being aired, and a regulation height basketball hoop. This may not seem to be that big a deal in the expansive confines of the cavernous sports bars and restaurants found back in the States. To manage it in Japan where space is less plentiful — on the 5th floor of a high-rise, no less — shows a dedication to the sport that is truly admirable.
Basketball Bar Penetrate
Osaka, Chuo-ku, Shinsaibashi 2-1-18
Opus One Building, 5F