Mitsui Hisashi is fourteen years old and trying to imagine life without basketball.
He's just been made captain of a team that's a favourite to go to nationals and all the reporters are writing articles about him and today his coach said that he was the best player ever to grace the halls of Takeishi. And when he goes to high school (it will be Kainan, he thinks, or Shoyo) he knows it will be same thing all over again. Because Mitsui loves basketball and basketball loves him.
But when he is alone, when he admits to being afraid and the future uncertain, he tries to imagine life without basketball.
He finds the imagining hard. He's not sure what he'd do with himself without basketball, not even in the most mundane sense. How to fill the time, without practices and games and scrimmages at the local court. He thinks about his few friends outside the team and how they seem to do nothing but study and daydream about things they'd rather be doing. He thinks about the boys he's seen loitering by the school gates, covertly smoking their cigarettes and trying to look tough but not really doing anything at all.
Mitsui Hisashi is scared to imagine life without basketball.
Miyagi Ryota is fifteen years old and living life without basketball.
The funny thing is, Miyagi came to Shohoku expressly to play basketball. He's heard a lot of things about the team here: about its terrible record, mainly, but also about its centre player, a giant on the court, and its coach, a giant off the court.
But now that he's here he can't seem to make himself go to the gym, even though he's filled out his form and bought new shoes and everything. Maybe it's because he wants to learn what it's like not to play basketball—what it's like not to be surrounded by giants all the time.
Miyagi is used to being surrounded by giants. He's used to being looked down upon, and he's used to staring back with defiance. It gives him strength, it gives worth to his goals. He doesn't necessarily like it.
But he wouldn't like being ordinary either.
Finally he goes to the Shohoku gym to see what all the fuss is about. As soon as he steps inside, a girl with mounds of curly dark hair smiles, yells welcome, passes him a ball, and Miyagi Ryota immediately stops living life without basketball.
Rukawa Kaede is sixteen years old and cannot imagine life without basketball.
It's not because he lacks the imagination (though he does). It's because he lacks a point of reference (not that he wants one).
His first memory: failing to toss an orange rubber ball into a laundry basket at his father's feet. His second memory: succeeding in tossing an orange rubber ball into a laundry basket at his father's feet. His distant third memory: a mother's smile.
His first word: "ball," an echo of his father's voice. His second word: "basket." His third word: "mama."
Rukawa Kaede cannot imagine life without basketball because he's never known life without basketball.
Akagi Takenori is seventeen years old and about to embark on a life without basketball.
In just a few more days he'll be done, he'll pass the reins over to Miyagi and then there will be months of books and practice exams and late nights to look forward to. Already his hands are itching for the ball, which is odd since he's dribbling one right now.
Right now he should be reminiscing about the past with Kogure, giving advice to Miyagi. He should be lamenting the fact that he'll never wear a Shohoku jersey again.
But, the thing is, whenever he sees Sakuragi or Rukawa performing an ostentatious dunk, or one of the freshie benchwarmers trying so very, very hard to make a jump shot, Akagi can't help but look forward to the future. And somewhere in that future he'll be playing ball again, Shintai scholarship or no Shintai scholarship, because he's had to start over from the bottom before and can almost relish it.
Akagi Takenori is about to embark on a life without basketball, with anticipation.
Sakuragi Hanamichi is eighteen years old and has forgotten what life was like before basketball.
He tries to think of things unrelated to basketball—like pachinko parlours (where he relaxes after Sunday practices), his guntai (yelling insults at him during games), his Haruko-chan (who once asked him, "Do you like basketball?") and realizes he's got to face the facts. He's married to the game now, and the only reminder he needs is the slight ache in his back whenever he leans against his chair the wrong way.
If he were in a cult he would point to the calluses on his hands, the blood on his knees, the never-quite-healed fracture in his spine, and he would say here is proof of my existence .
He's going to grow up to be Anzai-sensei, he's sure of it—not a white-haired Buddha, but a red-haired Devil—but he doesn't really care that he's going to grow a pot belly and need old-man glasses and have an annoying ho-ho-ho laugh. All that matters is that he'll be chucking balls into hoops until the day he dies. Because Sakuragi Hanamichi has found the one thing he's good at and that he loves and cannot forget it.
Sakuragi Hanamichi has forgotten what life was like before basketball, gladly.
As a whole, this story is sort of my apology to Akagi for not including him in my Captains series. How could I write a bunch of stories about captains—including two stories about Shohoku—and leave out Akagi? Bad me!
Miyagi's section was definitely the hardest to plan, probably because his past doesn't really make sense. Remember how Miyagi said near the beginning of the series that he was hesitant to join the basketball team when he came to Shohoku (until he saw Ayako)? But then Ryonan's coach said Miyagi went to Shohoku expressly to play basketball under Anzai-sensei. Uh huh.