Understanding B.League; Japan’s new basketball league


Finally, professional basketball has come back to Japan. Well, it never really went anywhere but it did go through a crisis that forced FIBA to kind of suspend Japan’s national program. Now we won’t get into the entire FIBA vs. Japanese basketball topic, that’s a story for another day. What will do, however, is talk about the new and improved B.LEAGUE.

So here’s the intense rundown of it all. Japan’s pro basketball scene had too many teams in too many leagues. Now, with the B.League, you have too many teams in only one league. Here’s how it works; think of it like the NCAA, they have division 1, division 2, and division 3. B.League holds the same concept with a hint of European pro soccer format to it (we will get to that in a second). In total, the Japanese B.League has 45 teams. Those 45 teams are divided but not divided equally into three divisions. You still with me? Good, because it gets complicated here. Let me throw in a B.League gif to keep you entertained.


Alright so as I was saying, the B.League has 45 teams in three divisions. Division 1 has 18 teams, division 2 has 18 teams, and division 3 (which will act as a semi pro D-league type division) will only have nine teams.

Division 1 is the top division so that’s what we will be focusing on most this season. The division will be divided into three conferences; so 18 teams playing a 60-game season in B.League’s first division divided into three conferences is six teams per conference. This is important come playoff time because the top two teams from each conference will clinch a playoff birth. Now I know what you are thinking 1. this is too complicated and I’m probably going to give up on reading this soon, and 2. how are you going to have a playoff with 6 teams? If you are 1. then just bare with me because I promise it gets more interesting and to 2. you bring up a good point. The top two teams with the best records who didn’t finish first or second in their division will also make the playoffs. So there you have it, the eight team playoff, now keep reading because here’s where it gets interesting.

A map showing the location of all 45 B.League teams across Japan.

A map showing the location of all 45 B.League teams (all three divisions) across Japan.

Playoffs? Are you kidding me…

I would never question Japanese innovation. Thanks Nintendo and Sony Walkman for giving me an excellent childhood. But I have to question B.League’s new playoff system. So here it goes. Eight teams make the playoffs. Which means there’s a quarter-final, a semi-final, and a final. The quarter-final and semi-final are two-game series’. No, not best two-out-of-three, but two games. What’s happens if they split the two games? Who moves on? Well I’m happy you asked. If both teams win-one/lose-one then it goes to a 10-minute overtime period following game 2. The buzzer sounds after game 2, both teams go to their respected benches and prepare for the 10-minute overtime that acts as game 3. Oh, and both games are played at the arena of the team who holds the highest regular season record. On to the finals where it’s a one-game SuperBowl style event at a neutral arena somewhere in Japan for the ultimate B.League championship trophy (that’s not what it’s called at all).


Foreign Players

Each of the 18 teams in the B.League (div. 1) is allowed three foreign players, that’s (checks calculator) 54 foreign players in one league. Watch a B.League match and you might think, ‘hey, how come that team has more than three foreigners’. Don’t let looks deceive you. Japan has a lot of 1st generation nationals who were born in Japan to foreign parents. The league rule states that if the player was born in Japan and finished elementary school in Japan than he is considered a local player. On top of those three foreign players, each team is allowed one naturalized player. I’m not an expert on the Japanese naturalization system, but it seems like more and more athletes are becoming Japanese citizens with ease.

So the rules for foreigners is simple. All three are allowed to play a combined six quarters but no more than two foreigners can be on the floor at once. You can’t throw a triangle offense with your three foreigners (sorry Phil Jackson). As for the naturalized Japanese player, he’s allowed to be out there all game.

Notable players in the B.League: Yuki Togashi, Earl Barron, Troy Gillenwater, Josh Harelson, and Jordan Bachynski.

Let the games begin

The 2016-2017 B.League regular season tips-off on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 6:55 p.m. at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Shibuya, Tokyo, home of the 4x NBL champions Alvark Tokyo who are hosting the 4x BJ.League champs Ryuku Golden Kings.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium

Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

To sum it all up, Japan is trying to replicate its international soccer success with basketball. That’s why it is trying to follow a similar format used in soccer leagues. Also, locking down a league sponsor was crucial, and they locked down one of the best in Softbank. The league does look promising. They’ve stepped up their digital platforms with new websites and updated content on social media platforms. Now it will come down to the product on the floor. Basketball is and always will be about stars and entertainment. It’s going to take some time. They are currently a decade behind in structured professional basketball. Let’s wait and see what happens.

Nick Bedard (@bedardnick) is the editor-in-chief of Basketballbuddha.com.

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