December 8, 2010

FIBA 33: A boon or a curse for hoops?

When the first ever Youth Olympic Games (YOG) took place in Singapore earlier this year, there was no sign of a proper basketball tournament. I use "proper basketball" deliberately, because the tournament showcased the large scale debut of FIBA's latest brainchild, the FIBA 33.

Maybe I used correct the "latest brainchild" statement - after all, every ball player alive (no really, EVERY ball player alive) has played a less formalised version of FIBA 33. If you don't know, FIBA 33 is half-court basketball, played 3-on-3, first one to 33 in regulation time wins. Regulation time is just 10 minutes (with five minute halves), and if no team reaches 33, the one leading when time expires wins. Each team has three players plus one substitute. There is just a 10 second shot-clock, and like the international unspoken rules of basketball half-court play, if the defensive team gains possession of the ball, they have to first pass it outside the three-point arc before starting their offense.

It sounds suspiciously like every pick-up game ever played, except with referees and timers - plus I'm not sure if FIBA would be too hot on the Shirts vs. Skins idea.

Anyways, due to the fast-paced and exciting nature of the game, it was a roaring success at the YOG, capturing the largest (and loudest) crowds. Even India had a four-member squad present at the games - they failed to win any of their group games, but beat a couple of teams in the 17-20 classification to end at 18th spot.

The success prompted FIBA to discuss the format at the FIBA World Conference in Istanbul during the World Championships. Now, FIBA are hoping to take the 3-on-3 format to a bigger stage.

“We are all very excited about FIBA33, and in view of its popularity after just one day, it isn’t too far fetched to imagine it one day making it into the Olympics in its own right,” said FIBA Secretary-General Patrick Baumann.

Baumann has even said: "The US will always be able to have 12 players of the same quality which India would not be able to have. But India can have three, four or five players who can play three-on-three and they will be at the same level as the US"

FIBA president Bob Elphinston has added: "We want to use FIBA 33 to encourage more young girls and boys to play the game, to get started in basketball. We also want to create FIBA 33 as a separate discipline, not dissimilar to what we see at the Olympic Games with volleyball, in that we have beach volleyball and we have volleyball."

Is there anyone else here who thinks this new concept sounds a bit too familiar? Let's see, what is that one sport in India that involves a lot of players and goes on for five days? There is a one-day version of that sport, too, but it goes on for hours and hours. People love this sport in our country but the organisers and some fans (but mainly, the advertisers) felt the show was too long and too slow to be enjoy / capitalised on fully. So they introduced a much shorter version of the game, inspired by the version played on the grass-root level, and gave it a nifty name with a two-digit number and soon, this version became so big and popular that those who fell in love with the original version of the sport said that the new version was killing it.

I'm talking of course of cricket - After the Test format and ODI format was deemed 'too slow' for some fans, in came Twenty-20 cricket, with just 20 over games to satisfy all our cricketing needs in under three hours. T-20 has become a phenomenon since, and its league in India, the IPL, has become almost as lucrative as football's EPL and basketball's NBA.

But T-20 critics are aplenty - many have complained that it has killed the soul of the game, or that it encourages pinch-hitting cricket without the classic technical skills, that it has become more of a spectacle than a sport.

Whatever side you take on this argument, it is clear that T-20 is here to stay. Now, FIBA 33 is a similar story in many ways. Of course, basketball's long format is about the same length as cricket's short one, but the intention in both cases is to serve the needs of the our collectively shortening attention spans (I'd be surprised if many readers have actually attentively made it this far down in this article!). Just like T-20, FIBA goes back to the grass-roots of the game, thus perhaps encouraging more participation.

But this is where we feel that FIBA needs to be careful. The 3-on-3 format encourages the one thing that many basketball purists detest - the 'I' not in 'Team'. Shanmugam Sridhar, the coach of India's 3-on-3 team that played in Singapore, said: "The 3-on-3 format made for very quick games. It especially helped in showcasing the talents of individual players."

Just like cricket purists have complained that T-20 has "dumbed-down" the game, FIBA 33 critics too may claim that the new format might be a too simplistic version to feature on the big stage.

On the positive note though, T-20 has been good for other formats of cricket in one way - by changing the player's attitude towards greater aggression, and of course, serving as a good platform for youngsters to prove their mettle for the "more respected" versions of the games.

FIBA 33 scores big in the fact that it will be able to involve more countries, since they will be required to field lesser players. India's involvement in the tournament in Singapore proved just that. Also, quicker games would mean greater participation. And both T-20 and FIBA 33 have been great crowd-pullers, so why not just give the people what they want?

Which side of the fence do you sit on with this issue? And while you mull over it, here is a video of the Indian three-on-three team at the Youth Olympics in their 27-11 win over South Africa.

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