This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India on June 16, 2017. Click here for the original piece.
I’ve played all formats of basketball: 5-on-5 full-courts, 1-on-1 around a single basket, playground “war”, Knockout, Air-21, or that simple lonesome shoot-around where I pretend to be an NBA star carrying team back from a Finals deficit against invisible defenders.
But the format I’ve played the most, and possibly the format most-actively played among amateur basketball players around the world, is 3-on-3. A good 3-on-3 contest provides with just enough of the beauty of basketball movement between the guard, swingman, and centre players to create a good flow in the game, allows for quick movement, passing, and attacking the basket, and a fast-pace overall game within the confines of the half-court.
In fact, the 3-on-3 format is so popular worldwide that FIBA – the international basketball federation – created official rules of the game under the FIBA 3×3 moniker several years ago. Over the past half-decade, FIBA has held 3×3 World Tours, continental championships, World Cups, and even created a world ranking of the best 3×3 performers. In the United States, a high-profile 3×3 league comprising of several retired NBA players called the BIG3 is set to be launched this summer.
But the biggest bit of news for 3×3 basketball lovers came this past week, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that this “new” format of the game was going to be added to the Olympics starting from the Tokyo Games in 2020. Traditional 5-on-5 basketball has been part of the Summer Olympics as a consistent event for Men and Women since 1936 and currently features twelve teams each in both divisions. Now, the Olympics will add another eight teams each (a total of 64 athletes) to play in the 3×3 Basketball Men and Women’s competitions in 2020.
In its early years, Eastern European teams like Serbia, Slovenia, Russia, and Ukraine have been dominant in the 3×3 format, with Poland, the Netherlands, and of course, the United States not far behind. But what has been one of the more curious developments in the early years of international 3×3 is the success of India in the format.
India ranks low internationally in the traditional 5-on-5 format of the game, has never won a medal in a major Asian basketball competition, or qualified for an international FIBA World Cup. In 1980, the result of a number of nations refusing to play in Russia for the Moscow Olympics allowed India’s Men’s basketball squad to make their first and only Olympic experience. The squad, led by Indian hoop legends like Ajmer Singh, Paramjit Singh, Shyam Radhey, and Amarnath Nagarajan, lost all seven of their games by huge margins and finished last among the twelve participating teams. And yet, the experience left an indelible mark on
the game in India, even though we have never been close since to make a return to the Olympic stage.
In recent years at the Olympics, only one Asian team has been guaranteed a spot out of twelve in each gender’s tournaments, while a couple others have had the opportunity to sneak into the competition through pre-Olympic qualifiers. For India to have a chance at legitimacy returning to traditional Olympic basketball, we will first have to beat insurmountable odds to qualify for the FIBA World Cup, and then beat some more odds to finish among the best Asian countries at that event. The task isn’t impossible, but it will take the greatest combination of skill and luck available for either of our national teams.
But while India has lagged against the top nations at the full-form of the game, they have been able to sneak in a lot of recent success in the 3×3 format. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI), relatively early into the official introduction of FIBA 3×3, chose to feature many of the same top players that represent our full national teams to play in the 3×3 squads, too.
India has won the 3×3 basketball gold medal twice (once for men and once for women) at the Asian Beach Games since 2008. In May last year, India’s Women won the FIBA Asia 3×3 gold in Qatar. A week later, India’s under-18 men and women both won silver medals at the U18 FIBA Asia 3×3 championship in Thailand. India dominated the South Asian Beach games, winning double gold for both men and women a few years ago. India’s under-23 men’s team have also won a bronze at the KFC 3×3 international challenge in China. In 2014’s Asian Beach Games in Phuket, India’s men’s side returned with a silver medal.
In recent years, a 3×3 club squad of Indian-origin players, led by Chandigarh-born superstar Amjyot Singh, has become one of the most successful 3×3 tour teams in the world. After his performances at the 3×3 World Tour Finals in UAE, Amjyot was named the top ranked 3×3 player in the “rest of the world” category.
Of course, even with the recent success and star-power, India is a longshot to make the Olympics in the 3×3 format, too. Once the rest of the world begins to take this format of the game more seriously, India will lose their early advantage. Still, the addition of 3×3 in the Olympics will provide the BFI and Indian basketball another target to aim for and another realistic avenue of the game through which they can recruit young players to basketball.
And anyways, a hoop dreamer can dream, can’t he? You know what would be better than seeing Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry play in the NBA Finals? Seeing Durant, James, and Curry represent Team USA’s 3×3 Basketball team in the Olympics, while India’s own “Big Three” of Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi try to counter them. It might be a complete blowout, but it will be the most inspiring blowout for hoop-heads in India since the Moscow Olympics!