3×3 basketball is moving from your local court to the Olympic stage


You have trouble gathering 10 people for pickup basketball, or you don’t have the space to accommodate a full game.

You make a compromise: there’s six people, so let’s run three-on-three on a halfcourt.

Next, you set the ground rules. Ones and twos, up to 21. Loser’s ball, defence must clear rebounds past the arc.

You hit the game-winning basket, and you think to yourself that this may be a better version of basketball than the original.

As it turns out, Olympic organizers agree.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Olympic debut of three-on-three basketball at Tokyo 2020:

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The basics

All the rules mentioned above apply to the Olympic version of the game, which is officially termed 3×3.

Teams play 10-minute games, with the first to 21 or whoever is leading at the buzzer declared the winner. In overtime, the first team to two points wins.

The game is played on a FIBA-length halfcourt, which is somewhat smaller than the NBA’s. The shot clock is also cut in half from 24 to 12 and the ball is slightly smaller than the regular FIBA rock.

Baskets inside the arc count as one point while heaves from beyond are worth two. Following a made shot, the defending team receives possession of the ball.

WATCH | 3×3 basketball, explained:

3×3 basketball is a new Olympic discipline at Tokyo 2020. Get to know the sport. 2:43

Offensive rebounds can result in an immediate shot attempt, while defensive rebounds must be cleared past the three-point line.

Unlike your own pickup games, there are referees in place to call fouls, though whether that creates more or less argument is up for debate.

Eight teams compete in each of the men’s and women’s tournaments, who each play seven round-robin games. The top two teams automatically advance to the semifinals, while third through sixth compete in a playoff for the other two spots. The final two rounds are single knockout.

The participants

Canada won’t be represented in Tokyo. A quirky rule limiting most countries to one gender in the Olympic qualifying tournaments left the women behind, as the men took Canada’s spot due to their higher FIBA ranking.

But after starting the qualifier 2-0, Canada dropped its next two and failed to reach the knockout stage, and thus the Olympics.

The Canadian men’s team had been made up of overseas and domestic professional players, while the women’s side features national-team stalwarts.

WATCH | Canada eliminated from 3×3 qualifier:

Watch Canada play the Netherlands in pool D action in the FIBA 3×3 basketball Olympic qualifier from Graz, Austria. 25:57

It’s the same setup in place for Tokyo — so don’t expect to see Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry. In fact, the U.S. men couldn’t even manage to qualify for Tokyo, despite receiving an exemption to the one-gender rule.

The American women’s squad, which will compete in Tokyo, features four solid WNBA players in Kelsey Plum, Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray and Katie Lou Samuelson.

None have extensive 3×3 experience, so the U.S. is betting on talent to overtake more battle-tested teams.

The strange qualification system meant three of the top-four men’s teams, per FIBA rankings, won’t be in Tokyo. Besides the No. 2 U.S., No. 3 Lithuania and No. 4 Slovenia are also out, leaving top-ranked Serbia, led by star player Dusan Bulut, as the gold-medal favourite.

The women’s side features more of the top countries, plus the Americans who should make noise despite their No. 15 ranking. France is the top-ranked team.

Mongolia is also notable, as its women are the first team the Asian country has ever sent to the Olympics.

Why now?

As basketball has continued to stake its claim as a global sport, three-on-three has become a major part of FIBA’s push to reach new markets.

Not only is it an easy game to play, but hosting a FIBA-certified tournament requires just an entry in the organization’s online portal.

The professional circuit is termed the FIBA 3×3 World Tour, with the marquee event being the World Cup where the 40 combined men’s and women’s teams are made up of at least 30 countries.

The sport was first recognized by the International Olympic Committee at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, eventually working its way up to the senior level a decade later.

The fast pace of the sport appeals to a broader audience, like rugby sevens.

But lest you think you can pick up the sport in time to qualify for Paris 2024, these are still professional or semi-professional basketball players.

Take, for instance, the last shot. In your pickup games, how often does the person who scored the 20th point go into heat-check mode to score the winner? Almost every time, right?

Not on the 3×3 World Tour. Yes, the nature of the game means you will see teams trading reckless attempts from time to time, but call it organized pickup, with designed plays drawn up by coaches.

It’s a sport played by amateurs across the world, perfected by some now headed to the Olympics.

A marriage almost as perfect as Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors.

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