3x3 basketball at Tokyo 2020: What are the rules and who are the favourites to medal?

Two gold medals will be awarded in 3x3 basketball at this summer’s Olympics, with eight male and eight female teams competing at the Aomi Urban Sports Park

Harry Latham-Coyle
Thursday 29 July 2021 00:19
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Basketball has been held at every Summer Olympic Games since Berlin 1936, but Tokyo 2020 sees the arrival at the Olympics for a new version of the sport.

Two gold medals (one for men and one for women) will be awarded in 3x3 basketball at this summer’s Olympics, with eight male and eight female teams competing at the Aomi Urban Sports Park.

Much like Twenty20 cricket or Rugby Sevens, 3x3 (officially pronounced three-ex-three) basketball is a condensed version of the game designed to attract younger viewers and aims to capitalise on the sustained recreational popularity of a similarly structured game.

The USA have traditionally dominated basketball at the Olympics, winning a combined 23 gold medals, with Argentina the only country still in existence to have taken either a men’s or women’s crown.

However the USA do not rank among the top favourites for 3x3 basketball in Tokyo: their men failed to qualify for the competition, while Team USA’s women are ranked thirteenth in the world.

How do you play three-on-three basketball?

Teams consist of three players and one substitute. The first team to 21 points wins, or, should the mark fail to be achieved after ten minutes, victory is awarded to the whichever team is ahead. If the score is tied after ten minutes, overtime begins, with the first team to score two points or get to 21 (whichever comes first) the victors.

The court is condensed, too, about half the size of a traditional basketball court at 11 metres long and 15 metres wide. It is divided into two areas by a semicircle around the single hoop and net.

Each game will begin with a coin toss, with the winner deciding who takes first possession. There is a twelve-second shot clock for each possession. Players must take the ball back to around the semicircle after claiming a rebound, while possession switches after every made basket.

The single substitute may enter the game during dead-ball situations by tagging out a teammate. The ball used is slightly smaller than the ball that will be used for the five-on-five competitions at Tokyo 2020, but will be the same weight.

Why are their two types of basketball at the Olympics?

It is a good question. Basketball’s global popularity remains strong, but the three-on-three event bears greater resemblance to the traditional pick-up recreational games popular both in North American and around the world, and it is hoped that the shorter, more intense version of sport may lead to greater global appeal and participation.

The competition is expected to generate significant interest. In 2017 Big3, a basketball league featuring a host of former NBA and international stars, was launched in the USA, with musician and actor Ice Cube among the founders.

Who are the favourites?

Perhaps surprisingly, USA’s women enter the event as the lowest-ranked team in the competition. France lead the pack as Number One ranked 3x3 female basketball nation, while the Russian Olympic Committee’s team, Romania and current world champions China are also likely to contend.

Serbia are France’s male counterparts, led by Dusan Domovic Bulut, widely regarded as one of the best players in the world. The reigning male world champions are the USA, who failed to qualify after being knocked out by potential contenders the Netherlands; 2019 World Championship silver medallist Latvia could also be in the medal mix.

Look out, also, for Mongolia’s women – their involvement in the competition will mark the first time that the nation has competed in a team sport at an Olympic Games.

When and where will the 3x3 competitions be held?

The Aomi Urban Sports Park is a newly-constructed temporary venue for the Games, built on an island close to the Athletes’ Village with view across Tokyo Bay. It will also host fellow new event Sport Climbing.

The 3x3 basketball is scheduled to run from 24 July to 28 July, with the Russian Olympic Committee’s women set to face hosts Japan in the opening pool fixture.

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