Three-on-Three Basketball at the Olympics: What to Watch For – The New York Times - Techy Hunters


Friday, July 23, 2021

Three-on-Three Basketball at the Olympics: What to Watch For – The New York Times

Eighty-five years after basketball’s debut in the Olympics, at the 1936 Berlin Games, a twist on the sport makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Three-on-three basketball, or 3×3 as the sport’s world governing body refers to it, promises a faster version than the traditional form.

Three on three is basketball reimagined for the TikTok generation, with fast-paced choreography and a hip-hop soundtrack. “If you have a short attention span, this is your sport,” said Kara Lawson, the coach of the U.S. women’s team.

The half-court game is played outdoors with a 12-second shot clock, no breaks and four-player rosters. The game ends after 10 minutes or when a team reaches 21 points, whichever comes first. Baskets scored outside the arc are worth two points; buckets inside it are worth one. The play is physical and fouls are rarely called.

“It’s like the X Games,” said U.S. guard Kelsey Plum. “There’s music going on, there’s a commentator making jokes about people’s play, about people getting crossed over, about someone shooting in someone’s face, saying someone is quicker than a Kardashian marriage.” (That omnipresent play-by-play announcer, Kyle Montgomery, peppers his commentary with Meek Mill and Drake lyrics and one liners like: “She’s all business like the front of the plane.”)

FIBA decided to experiment with an alternative form of the sport at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, where the first official three-on-three game was played. To expose more of the world to basketball, FIBA wanted to promote a game with a street ball vibe and small rosters.

The Olympics, in its quest to be cutting-edge, quickly added three-on-three basketball to its lineup, joining skateboarding, surfing, karate and climbing as newcomers to the Tokyo Games.

The United States, birthplace of basketball, has only one team in Tokyo. The men, winner of 15 of 19 men’s gold medals in the traditional five-on-five game, did not qualify. The squad was made up of former college players.

Yes, behind its roster of young W.N.B.A. standouts — Plum of the Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson, Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray and Las Vegas guard Jackie Young. Earlier this week, Young replaced Katie Lou Samuelson, who tested positive for the coronavirus while training with the team in Las Vegas.

Given there’s no timeouts or coaches on the bench, the pressure falls on the players to adjust on the fly. “You have to be more prepared,” said Lawson, who has been involved with the three-on-three team the past five years. “You have to be sure the players are equipped to coach themselves because I can’t save them and call a timeout and say you need to change this.”

Though the Americans are considered the most talented squad in the eight-team women’s event, they have limited experience playing together against veteran teams such as France, China and Russia. Even so, there’s a sense that anything can happen given the game is much more unpredictable than five on five.

Lawson said the short length of each game raises the stakes.

“You don’t have time in three on three,’’ she said. “If you’re down at the end of the first quarter you’re out of the tournament.”

The American men will not win the 3×3 gold medal, but Serbia or Latvia might. It’s also significant that the women’s tournament includes Mongolia, which has excelled in individual sports such as wrestling, boxing and judo in previous Olympics, but not team sports. This will be the first time the country has entered a team sport in the Summer Games. Mongolia’s Khulan Onolbaatar became her country’s first female flag-bearer.

“Mongolia is basketball crazy. I had no idea,” said Lawson, who took a three-on-three team there in 2019. “I’ve been to countries over the last five years that I would never guess I would go to for basketball.”

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