basketball

3X3 basketball: Why India may have a chance in this new Olympic sport

Team Hamamatsu, featuring three Indian-origin players, finished second at the Fiba 3x3 World Tour finals in 2016.

In June this year, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board made an announcement that sent ripples across the basketball community throughout the world. Starting with Tokyo 2020, the 3x3 – a shorter, quicker, more entertaining format of basketball – will be a discipline at the Olympics moving forward. This was welcome news for a sport that despite being the fastest growing sport in the world, continues to play second fiddle to football’s global dominance.

With the IOC embracing the 3x3 format, a decade worth of effort by the International Basketball Federation (commonly known as Fiba) in legitimising the shorter format has borne fruit. “3x3 is not only Fiba’s second official discipline and will be played in Tokyo 2020 at the Olympics, it, moreover, is the number one urban team sport in the world.” said a bullish Robert Reiblinger, Fiba Director of 3x3 Development, who was in India to launch the 3x3 Road to Mexico.

The 3x3 format often played on street basketball courts, has been around forever. The shorter format allows for quicker games, thus giving all players gathered at the neighbourhood court a chance to play. Since officially embracing the format in 2007, Fiba has been on a mission to grow the format even further.

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Faster, Higher, Stronger?

It launched the Fiba 3x3 World Championships, a flagship competition in which countries field their respective national teams. To this effect, it convinced the Olympic Committee to introduce the 3x3 as a discipline during the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore as a springboard to probable inclusion at the Summer Olympics. The success of the event, coupled with the popularity of the format among the world’s urban population tipped the Olympic Committee in favour of the 3x3.

Then there is the Fiba 3x3 World Tour, an open tournament where professional teams compete. The World Tour does not carry restrictions on the age and nationality of players that can form a team. Participating teams, sponsored by private companies, compete in tournaments across the world racking up points with each win. The top teams then qualify for the World Tour Finals that takes place over a long weekend in a country chosen at the start of the year.

The rules and regulations of 3X3

The 3x3 has a few similarities to the longer 5x5 format. The height of the rim remains at 3.05 metre. Most other court markings such as the free throw line (5.08 metre) and the three-point line (6.75 metre) remain the same. Players can be substituted during any point of the game (subject to securing possession of the ball) and are judged for fouls the same way they would in a 5x5 game.

However, akin to the Twenty20-One-Day International relationship in cricket, the 3x3 has tweaked the rules and regulations, not only to mirror the nature of the street game but to make it as exciting as possible.

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A regulation 3x3 court is 15 x 11 metre long, marginally smaller than half of a 5x5 basketball court. Games are 10 minutes long, but end quicker if either team gets to 21 points first. Players can score on 1-point/2-point baskets as compared to 2-point/3-point baskets in 5x5. Each team consists of four players – three on the court, with one substitute at the sidelines – and no coach on the sidelines. The shot clock – time duration within which the team with possession of the ball must attempt a shot – is 12 seconds as against the 24-second shot clock in a 5x5 game. The ball is also smaller; 3x3 uses a Size 6 (28.5” circumference) as against Size 7 (29.5”) in 5x5.

The 3x3 format has several distinct advantages. It is of a shorter duration, thus allowing players to play harder until the final whistle. Play is stopped only twice – when the ball goes out of bounds, or a foul is committed – and stays in motion the rest of the time. It requires fewer players and less space thus allowing it to fit into times, spaces and places that a regulation 5x5 game or tournament cannot. The smaller ball and smaller court make for a pace that is often quicker than at a 5x5. All these factors – court size, time duration, fewer players, easier logistics – make the format far more exciting and have led to its incredible popularity globally.

A global sport

Over the coming weekend, India will play host to its first ever professional 3x3 World Tour tournament in New Delhi. The tournament will stand in as a showcase event, and its success will determine the feasibility of a potential 3x3 slated to launch in 2018.

“We would like to have more basketball fans in the country,” says Rohit Bakshi, the CEO of YKBK Enterprise, the company hoping to put India on the map with 3x3 league next year. “We’re confident that 3x3 Basketball will be able to excite and entertain people through its inherent pace being a shorter format. Right now, our focus is on the Professional 3x3 League in India that we have planned for in 2018 and in the longer term, we hope to host a World Tour in India.”

Twelve international and domestic teams have been invited to participate in the tournament, including the reigning Fiba 3x3 World Tour Final runners up Team Hamamatsu. Other prominent Indian teams that have been invited include national powerhouse clubs the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation, the Indian Overseas Bank, Railways and Services.

“3x3 Road to Mexico will be a new opportunity for players, spectators and fans alike to get their first taste of 3x3 Pro Basketball League action,” says Yoshiya Katoh, Chairman of YKBK Enterprise. “3X3BL will also create grassroots 3x3 basketball and will be building 3x3 basketball courts across the Indian subcontinent. We want to start a strong relationship between Japan and India that can promote the sport for the viewers as well as the players.”

Apart from cash prizes to the finalists, the winning team at the “3x3 Road to Mexico” will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to participate in the Fiba 3x3 World Tour – Mexico City from September 30 to October 1.

India have punched above their weight

India currently rank 74th out of 189 playing countries. The men’s team are ranked in the 72th position and the women’s team are in 105th place. It will take a while for the country climbs up the rankings. This is because Fiba, unlike the 5x5 format, is yet to establish a more organised calendar for the Fiba 3x3 World Championship.

It is on the Fiba 3x3 World Tour, though, that India have fared much better. Team Hamamatsu led by Indian star forward Amjyot Singh and featuring American-Indian Inderbir Gill, Canadian-Indian Bikramjit Gill finished runners up at the Fiba 3x3 World Tour Finals in Abu Dhabi in 2016. The team also featured YKBK’s Bakshi.

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This year too, Team Hamamtsu features a prominent India player in Palpreet Singh Brar. Palpreet who made headlines by becoming the second Indian player to sign a contract with the National Basketball Development League (now called NBA G League) last season has taken Amjyot’s place for the season thus far. That, however, has not stopped Hamamatsu from staying competitive as they sit pretty at No 11 in the current world rankings.

“We see a great upwards movement in the near future for the basketball community in India,” says Katoh. “We are excited to bring Fiba 3x3 Basketball to the Indian subcontinent and are committed to keep pushing this fast paced urban sport into many cities in the region.”

Reiblinger agrees. “India with its plenty of metropolitan areas has a sheer unlimited pool of athletes and talent to offer. Indian teams have had their fair share of success already in 3x3 at the continental and national team level. And Indian players raised some eyebrows on a global level, when they pushed their team last year to the finals of Fiba’s 3x3 World Tour Final. Fiba is very excited to now have with this event as a direct World Tour Qualifier that will take India to the World stage again.”

Indian basketball is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. Amritpal’s contract with the Sydney Kings, the Basketball Federation of India fiasco getting sorted, the Indian women’s team back among the elite in Asia, and the NBA’s elite academy are all signs of good things to come. The 3x3BL could not have come at a better time. And while it remains to be seen how this once urban, now professional sport finds a foothold in India’s steadily growing sporting culture, one thing remains clear: there has never been a better time to be a basketball fan in India.

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