The front page of the International Basketball Federation’s Web site offers a little teaser about its latest project: “From the streets to the Olympics” says basketball’s world governing body in a pitch for the 3x3 version of the game.
While next year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics is where the sport is to have its big reveal, there are a few stops along the way to Japan, including this week in Lima, where 3x3 went “from the streets to the Pan American Games.”
If the excited holiday crowd packed into the quaint Coliseo Eduardo Dibos on Monday was any indication, the three-a-side version of hoops, played on a half-court, could be a Tokyo Olympic hit.
Despite having no basketball pedigree and little exposure to the sport beyond NBA highlight packages, Peruvians seemed genuinely fascinated by the 3x3 version, in which the winner is the first team to 21 points or ahead after the 10-minute regulation period.
The US men did not need the full 10 minutes to get the job done, Jonathan Octeus draining two free throws to seal a 21-19 win over Puerto Rico, while the women completed an unbeaten run to the gold by stopping Argentina 21-17.
“We are definitely the pioneers, first team to win the 3x3 gold medal; I’m glad it was the USA,” Octeus told reporters.
“This game is going to grow,” he said.
“In the Americas it is not as big, but the Europeans, from my understanding, they have been playing this game for 10, 15, 20 years, so it is crazy to see their growth and see what might happen over the next 10 years with the 3x3 game in the Americas,” he added.
The gold medal contests looked much like something you might see in any park, schoolyard or playground in the US, or Paris or Shanghai for that matter.
While the 3x3 version is played now in every corner of the globe, the game as a competitive entity remains largely unknown.
The federation has methodically introduced the sport, starting with the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore, where 3x3 had its first international competition.
That was followed by its Asian Games debut last year and another first at the Pan Am Games.
The federation also operates a 3x3 World Tour that this season consists of 11 events culminating with the final in November in Utsunomiya, Japan.
Many sports have trended toward condensed versions of their games in a bid to widen their appeal
Rugby sevens, Twenty20 cricket and mixed curling are among the sports that have benefited from giving fans fast, bite-size versions of their games.
Three-on-three does that and more with its fast-paced action played out to a blaring hip-hop sound track.
“Not a lot of people know about three-on-three; I just learned about it two years ago, but I think it’s growing,” said Christyn Williams, who contributed five points to the US’ win.
“Winning gold will make a huge impact,” she added.
“It is a new sport for the US, so us playing in this benefited it,” Williams said.
“Since I started playing, it has grown a lot, so I think us playing in it and showing it to the US it will grow even more,” she added.
Uncertainty grips next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympic Games: Will there be fans or empty stadiums in 14 months? How will thousands of athletes, staff members and technical officials travel, be housed and stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic? And the Tokyo Games are not the only event. China, where COVID-19 was first detected, is to hold three mega-sports events in the year after the Tokyo Olympics are set to close. The World University Games in Chengdu, China, are to open, with up to 8,000 athletes, only 10 days after the Tokyo Games close. Next come the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning on Feb. 4, 2022,
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