We really need to talk about 3-on-3 basketball making the Olympics – ANITH
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We really need to talk about 3-on-3 basketball making the Olympics

We really need to talk about 3-on-3 basketball making the Olympics

Pickup hoops in Jersey City.

Image: Julio Cortez/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Three-on-three basketball is having a moment. On top of Ice Cube’s newly launched league for aging NBA folk heroes, the playground staple also just got added as an Olympic sport. 

That’s right — 3-on-3 basketball will be at the Tokyo Games. We’re still picking our jaws up off the floor. 

And we have so many questions. Chief among them: Is this Good or Bad? 

Some thoughts as we try to sort out our feelings … 

Why it’s cool

Pickup hoops in Berkeley, California.

Pickup hoops in Berkeley, California.

Image: JOSE SANCHEZ/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Three-on-three half-court is arguably the funnest way to play — not necessarily watch, but play — basketball. Plenty of lifelong hoopers would rather run 3-on-3 half-court games than full-court 5-on-5 for reasons aside from sheer laziness. 

There’s more space on the floor. But, as opposed to two-on-two or one-on-one, each team still has enough players to make offense interesting. Meanwhile, skill becomes more paramount, in contrast to informal full-court games that can easily devolve into sloppy track-meets.

So yeah, that’s cool on a certain level, to see a game so familiar to weekend warriors being played on the Olympics stage. Official international 3-on-3 rules even say the score must be kept by ones and twos — another playground staple. 

“Adding a new urban basketball discipline to the Olympic program marks a quantum leap for the development of the game and presents an array of opportunities for new countries and players alike,” read a Friday press release from FIBA, the governing body of international basketball. 

But our main question is an important one …

Who’s going to play in this thing? 

Pickup hoops in Suisun City, California.

Pickup hoops in Suisun City, California.

Image: JACOBSON/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Imagine watching a lineup of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry take on all comers in 3-on-3. Imagine other countries with their own lineups of NBA stars — Andrew Wiggins for Canada, Ben Simmons for Australia, Giannis Antetokounmpo for Greece, just to name a few.

That’s fun to think about, but it’s tough for several reasons to realistically see many — if any — of the world’s top NBA players participating in 3-on-3 at the Olympics. The face of Olympic 3-on-3 would more likely look quite different. 

Two years ago, for example, Vice Sports did a feature on what it called “the best 3-on-3 team in the world.” They’d won pretty much everything in the sport — and were a group of random dudes from Novi Sad, Serbia. Bleacher Report recently spotlighted a member of the American 3-on-3 team that will compete at this summer’s FIBA 2017 3X3 World Championships in France; he’s a 30-year-old financial manager who played college ball at Northwestern. 

Does seeing financial managers from Manhattan take on no-name dudes from Serbia with an Olympic gold medal on the line — the highest honor in sports, mind you — sound cool? Or does it just sound weird? 

Whether it’s Good or Bad is subjective. But there’s no debate that it’s different. So are other details, like the fact that 3-on-3 regulations use a slightly smaller game-ball than the NBA version. 

No matter what you make of it all, though, there is this: Come 2020 in Tokyo, 3-on-3 hoops will have completed its journey from the playground to the Olympics. 

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Anith Gopal
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