The vast courtyard at Phoenix Marketcity – Bengaluru’s largest mall – surrounded by two floors of popular and posh restaurants, a multiplex building and a few shopping outlets is unusually noisy on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.

The curious among those lunching in the floors above crane forward to see what’s going on. They see a makeshift stage overseeing half a basketball court and some 100 people, including a few volunteers, strewn around it.

On the half court, there are six players in either bright blue or yellow-and-black sleeveless tops and shorts, making explosive movements, trying to get the ball into the solitary basket. The players’ sharp yells are drowned by 50 Cent’s In Da Club booming from the loudspeakers. The onlookers from the restaurants, however, can’t see the opposite-facing board that would have informed them of the event: 3x3 Pro Basketball League.

The two-day round in Bengaluru – on August 11 and 12 – was the six-round league’s penultimate one. The inaugural edition of the league will culminate after the final round – on August 25 and 26 – in Mumbai.

What is 3x3 basketball?

Instead of the usual five-a-side game played on a 28-metre long, 15-metre wide court (for international games), a 3x3 (with one substitute for each team) match is played on a court that resembles a half of the conventional basketball court with one hoop. A match lasts for 10 minutes, which is the length of one of the four quarters in a five-a-side match. The team that scores 21 points first or more points than its opposition within the stipulated 10 minutes, wins.

Three-a-side basketball, like seven- or five-a-side football, has been played as a recreational sport for over decades. Over time, the form’s popularity grew after many played it in streets and gyms.

Acknowledging this, the International Basketball Federation, Fiba, decided to test the format at the 2007 Asian Indoor Games in Macau. The format made its international debut in the 2009 Asian Youth Games. The following year, it made it to the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore. In two years’ time, the 3x3 format will, for the first time, feature in the Olympics alongside with its archetype.

Ready reckoner

Play

Five-on-five vs 3x3: Major differences

RULE 3X3 5-ON-5
Hoop 1 2
Court 11m long, 15m wide 28m long, 15m wide
Playing time 10 minutes Four quarters of 10 minutes
Maximum points (sans tiebreak) 21 NA
Shot clock 12 seconds 24 seconds
Field goal points 1 or 2 points 2 or 3 points

Fiba, has designed a professional league system and international competitions for the 3x3 format. The entry into the top competitions for the national teams – Fiba Continental Championships, World Cups and Olympics – is based on the top-100 individual player rankings. The players, in turn, accumulate points by participating in Fiba’s 3x3 competitions. The 3x3 Pro Basketball League, started by Rohit Bakshi, a former 3x3 player, aims to make India one of the strongest teams in the format, especially since it’s now an Olympic sport.

A little away from the court and the blaring speakers that plays one rap track after another at the mall in Bengaluru, Rohit tells Scroll.in that India has a great chance to make the Olympics. A medal there, he says, is unlikely. But an Indian 3x3 basketball team, he adds, has a great chance to participate unlike in the conventional format.

“The Olympic participation depends on the players and their Fiba rankings. And because not all countries have a professional league, [the players from those countries] can’t be up on the ranking. Hence India will be able to participate in Olympics,” he explains.

But, as of now, those in India wanting to play the five-on-five format can’t participate in 3x3 tournaments, including the 3BL. Even as the league is approved by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and Fiba, the former, in a letter to its affiliated units in April, asked to not let the 5x5 players participate in any 3x3 formats.

For Rohit’s dream to realise, in less than two years, considerably more men and women must start playing and accumulate Fiba ranking points in the 3x3 format. For as of now, no man or woman from the country is among the top-200 in the Fiba 3x3 rankings and the country’s ranked 68th.

Taking the sport to the people

Apart from taking Indian basketball to the Olympics, Rohit, through 3BL, also wants to popularise the sport in the sub-continent. The inaugural season of the league was played in Delhi, Aizawl, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai. For the next season, the league commissioner is planning to have a few matches in Sri Lanka. Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan are the other countries that he wants to be a part of his league.

“We want to take the sport to the general people,” he says. And for this, he doesn’t want the sport to be played in a conventional arena. This season, all the matches have been played in public spaces like malls.

The fourth round, hosted by Forum Vijaya Mall in Chennai, saw over two lakh people watching it over two days, according to Rohit. It’s hard to count the number of those who actually watch the game as spectators, in malls, range from those craning in from their eating tables in restaurants just to know what’s going on, to those who stand near the court, watching one 10-minute match after another.

‘The T20 of basketball’

V Basawaraj, 23, has never watched a basketball match before. On Saturday, he was watching his fifth 3x3 game. “It’s very fast and exciting,” he replies when asked what interested him about the game. Five games later, he’s figured out the 12-second shot clock and the points system (one point if scored from inside the arc and two if scored from outside). He also wants to know who the “somewhat familiar lady sitting on the stage” is. It was Bollywood actor and filmmaker Pooja Bhatt, who owns the Delhi Hoopers franchise.

3BL, according to Rohit, is “70% game, 30% entertainment”, which explains the presence of Bhatt, Telugu actor Arvind Krishna, who owns Hyderabad Ballers, and the incessant rap songs.

Bollywood actor and filmmaker Pooja Bhatt owns the Delhi Hoopers franchise of the 3x3 Pro Basketball League (Image: IANS)
Bollywood actor and filmmaker Pooja Bhatt owns the Delhi Hoopers franchise of the 3x3 Pro Basketball League (Image: IANS)

The casual backdrop of a mall and the groovy music aren’t attempts by 3BL to glamourise the sport. Entertainment is intrinsic to the sport. All over the world, this is how the sport is played. 3BL isn’t doing anything different. The official rules page of 3x3 says the game is “simple, fast and entertaining (with non-stop music)”.

Srikanth, 42, who follows NBA on TV, is watching the Chennai Icons versus Kochi Knights game with his pre-teen son. He reckons the 3x3 format is the “T20 of basketball”. But unlike cricket’s popular format, he doesn’t think people will pay to watch a game. Because basketball in India has been found wanting for good administrators, world class players and following in big numbers.

USA’s Timajh Parker-Rivera, 24, who has played in the ProB league in Germany and in the Portugese Baskeball League, reckons India’s got the talent and with “better fundamentals”, the players of the country can get to the highest level.

Inderbir Singh Gill, 31, an NRI from USA, playing for Delhi Hoopers, agrees. “India has a lot to do for becoming a top nation in 3x3 basketball. This league should grow. Especially if India can go to the Olympics and have some success at the international stage, then, I think players will pick up the sport.”

Of course, more players from the country are likely to take up the sport if an Indian team participates in the 2020 Olympics. But for an Indian team to participate in the 2020 Olympics, more players should already be taking up the sport.