It still will have the classic backyard or pickup game vibes that come with any 3-on-3 basketball game. Except for a few days, 3-on-3 will be played on the biggest stage in international sports.
The format has gained popularity not just in the United States but internationally over the past few decades. And not just in a casual sense, but competitively. With the introduction of other “street” sports in Tokyo — skateboarding, for example — 3-on-3 basketball’s Olympic debut this cycle makes sense.
The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) adopted formal 3-on-3 rules 14 years ago, and it was first played competitively at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. FIBA has organized a 3-on-3 World Cup since 2012, and in 2017 it was selected as an Olympic sport for Tokyo.
Contests will take place at Aomi Urban Sports Park, a waterfront venue with views across the Tokyo Bay that will later host the sport climbing competition.
The basics and rules of basketball carry over into the 3-on-3 format. Dribbling, shooting, rebounding and defense remain the core tenets — and players must be able to excel in all phases of the game. With rosters set at four players per team, versatility is key and substitutions/rotations are frequent.
3-on-3 is played on half of a normal basketball court. The shot clock is set at 12 seconds, half of the 24-second clock in the NBA and much lower than the 30 seconds in college basketball. And the game hardly stops after fouls or made baskets.
There is no tip-off. Rather, a coin flip decides first possession. Winners are determined by the first to 21 points or whoever is leading after 10 minutes. If the score is tied after 10 minutes, overtime will be played — the first team to score two points wins.
Who will win a medal?
Shots made from beyond the traditional three-point line count as two points, and baskets made inside the arc count as one. Free throws count as one point, and are awarded for fouls committed inside the arc.
The 3-on-3 game uses a ball that is size 6, compared to size 7 balls used in 5-on-5 games. The smaller size of the ball suits the speed of the game.
Players in 3-on-3 have more responsibility when it comes to strategy, since coaches are not allowed courtside.
Team USA boasts dominance on the basketball court, but the men will not be winning 3-on-3 gold — they didn’t even qualify.
Only eight teams make the Olympics, for both the men’s and women’s tournaments. The U.S. women will certainly have a shot at gold, although there is no runaway favorite.
Each team will play the other seven over four days (two games on the first three days). After the final “pool phase” game, the teams in seventh and eighth place will be eliminated.
The semifinals and medal games take place on the same day.
U.S. Athlete to Watch: Allisha Gray, women’s 3-on-3
A 2017 national champion at the University of South Carolina, Gray led all U.S. players with 39 points during last month’s qualifying tournament in Austria. Gray will play in Tokyo alongside Stefanie Dolson, Kelsey Plum and Katie Lou Samuelson.
International Athlete to Watch: Dusan Bulut, men’s 3-on-3, Serbia
FIBA ranks him as the No. 1 3-on-3 player in the world. Known for his passing, he also can create his shot and knock down 3-pointers. Serbia, which has grown the 3-on-3 game separate from its 5-on-5 endeavors, has won four of six World Cups since 2012.