3x3 basketball: India’s rapid progress ignites dreams of Olympic glory

Prior to the inaugural season of the FIBA 3BL, a 3x3 Pro Basketball League, India had a world ranking of 86. By the time the season ended, it moved up to 44.

Delhi Hoopers' Inderbir Gill in action during the FIBA 3BL in India.   -  Special Arrangement

Unknown to many, India, recently, has improved by leaps and bounds in a specific format of a sport which does not garner as much attention as cricket or football does in our nation. The sport in question here is basketball and the format, 3x3.

Basketball in India is one such sport which sees a large pool of talented players appear at the school-level only to disappear into oblivion in a matter of a few years. The game which is usually a five-a-side affair can also be played with three players on each side coupled with a rolling substitute.

3x3 basketball is the world’s largest urban sport and will makes its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Although the recently concluded Asian Games featured 3x3 basketball, it saw no participation from India.

Japan-based Indian entrepreneur Rohit Bakshi, however, has dared to harbour an Olympic dream. He says, “3x3 is FIBA’s (International Basketball Federation’s) gift to a country which is having a hard time competing in the traditional 5x5 basketball. It is that format which could pave the way for India to an Olympic medal.”

Bakshi is the league commissioner of FIBA 3BL — a 3x3 Pro Basketball League, which was launched in India with a showcase event in September 2017 at Ambience Mall in Gurgaon.

All eyes will be on Bikramjit Gill, who has previously led Hamamatsu to the summit clash of the World Tour Final two years ago in Abu Dhabi.   -  Special Arrangement

  The inaugural season of the FIBA 3BL—3x3 Pro Basketball League was held in six cities — Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Aizawl, Mumbai, and Kolkata — across India from June 9 to August 26 this year.

Delhi Hoopers, a franchise co-owned by Bollywood celebrity Pooja Bhatt, won the inaugural season. India was also represented for the first time at FIBA 3x3 World Tour at the Utsunomiya Masters in July 2018 by Delhi where the side finished ninth.

The team qualified for the Mexico City Masters (September 8-9), Hyderabad Masters (September 22-23) and Penang Masters (October 13-14) as well where it finished with respectable standings of ninth, seventh and fifth respectively. Based on these performances, Delhi 3BL (instead of Delhi Hoopers on World Tours) became the first Indian team to qualify for the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Finals in Beijing in China which is due to be organised on Saturday and Sunday.

Delhi 3BL, although seeded the lowest, will look to have a go at the title even as all eyes would be on Bikramjit Gill, who has experienced it all when he led his former side, Hamamatsu to the summit clash of the World Tour Final two years ago in Abu Dhabi.

 

"I strongly believe India has a good chance to excel at Tokyo in 3x3. We started with the idea of using the algorithm of FIBA to put India into the map of the Olympics.”

What Bakshi makes even more optimistic are the numbers. Prior to the inaugural season of the 3BL, India had a world ranking of 86. By the time the season ended, the ranking came down to 44.

The 3x3 format makes it more entertaining and keeps up with the fast-paced world, believes Bakshi. It is similar as to how T20 adds to the entertainment factor in a game of cricket. “In 3BL, we are clubbing the sport with entertainment. Indians love entertainment. Giving Indians a new sport, an extra format to help them compete in the Olympics would call for more fanfare which again is FIBA’s motive," adds Rohit, who himself was a 3x3 hoopster for Agleymina.EXE, a Premier.EXE league franchise in Japan.

Interestingly, all the 3BL matches were organised in malls and public spaces, which Rohit believes is the way "you bring a particular sport to the people" and not the vice-versa.

"Our aim is to take the sport to a high-traffic area and target the non-basketball fans. Basketball fans already know about the league's existence and about 3x3 basketball. When you regularly watch a sport happening that is when it gets to you," says Bakshi.

In the inaugural season, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) did not allow its regular 5x5 players to feature in the 3BL. “The BFI is planning to change its thought. But to be very honest, it hardly matters. In a country of 1.3 billion people, it would not take much to find people who would want to play 3x3. We will work according to what happens,” he adds.

On how India could make it to the Olympics, Bakshi has a detailed explanation. He says, “For 3x3, things are a bit different. The qualification to Olympics depends on the FIBA rankings of the federation. Each player scores points based on the competition they play in and the final position of their team in that competition. The points for the federations in FIBA rankings come from the top 100 players from the country.

“The top 20 federations in the world will then qualify for the Olympics. There are two types of events in 3x3 basketball. One nationals and the second one is what is called the Pro Circuit. In the nationals, you do not get any FIBA points. Only the Pro Circuit points count.”