When the IOC approved 3-on-3 basketball as an official Olympic sport last month, BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz wasn’t surprised.
The Olympic approval came five months after Kwatinetz and media mogul Ice Cube announced their endeavor of a halfcourt league featuring retired NBA stars such as Allen Iverson, Mike Bibby, Chauncey Billups, and Rashard Lewis. BIG3 CEO Amy Trask poked fun at the IOC’s timing Wednesday, days before Philadelphia hosts the league on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
“You’re welcome,” Trask said. “I’m waiting for them to express appreciation.”
The IOC’s move toward adding 3-on-3 basketball started well before the BIG3 began showcasing the talents of retired NBA stars. FIBA first sponsored 3-on-3 basketball in 2007, proposing the addition of 3-on-3 to the 2010 Youth Olympic Games — a proposition that was approved by the Olympic Committee.
Without FIBA, 3-on-3 basketball would not have been approved as quickly.
“This is a historic day for FIBA and [3-on-3],” FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann said on June 9. “It is the recognition of 10 years of hard work to codify the rules of [3-on-3] and to innovate with a unique [3-on-3] digital platform and player ranking system.”
For the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, 3-on-3 basketball will be played with three starters and a substitute on a halfcourt, with a 12-second shot clock. The first team to reach 21, or leading after the 10-minute period, wins. The ball will be slightly smaller than a regulation NBA ball. Olympic 3-on-3 basketball will follow rules of FIBA, the same governing body for 5-on-5 Olympic play.
The IOC, FIBA, and BIG3 hope that the sport’s fast pace resonates with the younger demographic.
“It’s accessible everywhere,” Kwatinetz said. “The demographics that play it are younger. The demographics that watch it are younger. And as the Olympics looks to make sure that they regenerate their huge audience, they need to appeal to younger sports fans as well. We were very happy to see they did it, but we weren’t surprised because of the popularity of the sport.”
In 2020, Kwatinetz anticipates BIG3 players appearing on the United States 3-on-3 roster. While Kwatinetz’s league is the first of its kind in the U.S., 3-on-3 basketball has significant popularity at the youth level, particularly in pickup settings.
“We do fully expect players from our league to be representing our country and potentially others at the Olympics,” Kwatinetz said. “ I think part of what the Olympics responded to was what we responded to, which is the 3-on-3 game of basketball is the most played sport in the world.”
Between now and the 2020 Olympics, 3-on-3 basketball will continually develop as the BIG3 and Dew NBA 3x tour gain momentum through different formats and visions.
“We definitely think the timing works in our favor for what we’re introducing to the world with professional 3-on-3 basketball,” Ice Cube said. “It’s great what the Olympics is doing, but that’s three years away, and we plan on making a lot of progress between now and then to elevate our game, as well.”
BIG3 vs. Olympic 3-on-3
The BIG3’s 3-on-3 game format differs from the Olympic version that fans will see in 2020.
- Scoring: The Olympics will feature common pick-up scoring, granting two points for a three-pointer and one point for a two-pointer. Unlike the BIG3, the Olympics will not feature a four-point shot, designated by three circles 30 feet from the basket. The BIG3 has conventional scoring, as three-pointers and two-pointers are worth their defined values.
- Clock: The BIG3 ends the first half after a team reaches 30 points, and ends the game at 60 points — with teams having to win by at least two. The Olympic version of 3-on-3 basketball is simplified: The winner either reaches 21 points first or is leading after a 10-minute period. The Olympic shot clock is 12 seconds while BIG3’s shot clock is 14 seconds.
- Fouls: Both the BIG3 and Olympics do not feature personal fouls; rather, there’s a team foul limit per half: six for the Olympics, five for the BIG3. At the Olympics, players earn a single one-point shot for fouls committed inside the arc, and two shots for those outside the arc. In the BIG3, players are granted single shots, but they are worth two, three, or four points depending on the area of the foul.
- Possession: Neither format utilizes make-it, take-it (make the shot, retain possession). Rather, they grant possession to the defensive team after a made basket. All plays must be started outside the arc at the top of the court. The BIG3 rules that the ball must hit the rim to warrant a clearance to the top of the court.
- Roster: The Olympic rosters will carry four players, as teams will have only one substitute. The BIG3, meanwhile, features a captain, co-captain, three regular players, and a player-coach. Allen Iverson, for example, is a player-coach.
- Style of play: Both formats create a quick style of play, but the Olympics’ shortened version increases the importance of every shot. With the four-point shot, the BIG3 sees more outside shots. Either way, shorter shot clocks speed both games immensely.