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For 3x3 basketball, less is more

The MD of FIBA 3x3 on the development of basketball in India, and how the two formats feed off each other

Delhi’s Inderbir Singh Gill and Novi Sad’s Dusan Bulut compete at the Hyderabad 3x3 event.
Delhi’s Inderbir Singh Gill and Novi Sad’s Dusan Bulut compete at the Hyderabad 3x3 event.

Three-a-side, or 3x3, is trying to do for basketball what the T20 format did for cricket: make it faster, shorter, and more accessible to new audiences and players. In 2020, it will make its Olympics debut in Tokyo.The 3x3 format comprises three-member teams instead of the traditional five and is played on half the court in a single 10-minute period. The first team to reach 21 points wins. India hosted a major 3x3 event in Hyderabad last month. Alex Sanchez, the managing director of the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) 3x3 who has been leading the initiative since 2010 and has been instrumental in taking it to the Olympics, was in India for the event and spoke with Lounge on the development of basketball in India, medal chances in Tokyo and how the formats feed off each other. Edited excerpts:

Why did you bring this World Tour Masters to India? What are the prospects for the growth of basketball here—across both formats?

We are very happy to be here in India; it is the first time there is a major 3x3 event being hosted here. We believe this will help raise awareness and grow basketball in general in the country. We believe there is huge potential.

We believe if we grow 3x3 it will help grow 5x5 and if we grow 5x5, we can grow 3x3. So it’s not exclusive. If we are able to attract people to 3x3 games it means we are growing the basketball community. Fiba is viewing 3x3 as an opportunity to grow basketball in different countries.

Do you think the 3x3 format is friendlier for reaching new audiences...because it’s shorter and faster like T20 was for cricket?

Our aim when we started 3x3 a few years ago was to attract new fans and players. We have been doing polls and questionnaires at various events and over a majority of spectators do not follow basketball regularly. This is proof of what you said—3x3 is growing the basketball community and the number of fans playing it. We play in easily accessible locations, with music and entertainment. That’s an integral part. It makes it easier to attract people.

How did you pitch for its inclusion at the Olympics.

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to launch the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 in Singapore, they requested all the different federations to come up with new, more youthful disciplines. At the time Fiba suggested 3x3. It was a resounding success and was the most watched and followed event in Singapore 2010. That success was repeated in 2014. We developed a white paper and concluded that there was a huge potential in the world for 3x3. There was an IOC-commissioned study that stated it was the largest urban team sport in the world. We requested for its inclusion in Rio 2016…but the decision got delayed.... We renewed our request and it was accepted by the IOC for 2020.

Do you think India has a chance to qualify in 3x3 for Tokyo 2020?

All India needs is a few talented players and India has those. We have seen them play 3x3. I honestly believe India has a real chance to qualify in the Olympics and even play for medals in 2020.

Basketball players aren’t household names here. Is part of the strategy also going to look at helping build the profile of local players?

This is something we are doing not only in India but worldwide. There is enough talent here to identify a few players we think can become future stars.

Does the 3x3 game—which is faster, shorter, more offensive—affect the 5x5 game or vice versa?

3x3 is a route to developing 5x5. We have several examples of players that have become better after 3x3. Players sitting on the bench for their club after 3x3 ended up being on the starting five of their national team. So we believe there are revolving doors between the two. It is similar to what beach volleyball has done to volleyball.

The Basketball Federation of India says those who play 3x3 competitively can’t play 5x5 and vice versa...

We do not understand this ban. The beauty of the system Fiba put in place is everyone is welcome. I can tell you (the rule) is being reviewed by the legal department of Fiba.

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