Liam Morgan

There were mixed emotions on the sidelines as the first 3x3 Olympic basketball competition drew to a close here on Wednesday (July 28) night.

It was not just because the finals were not delivering on their promise of fast and furious entertainment - they overwhelmingly were - but because the man who worked so tirelessly for this very moment was not there to see it.

3x3 was the "baby" of the late International Basketball Federation (FIBA) secretary general Patrick Baumann, in the words of his successor Andreas Zagklis.

Baumann was the perhaps the most ardent proponent of 3x3 on the planet. The Swiss official, who died after suffering a heart attack during the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, campaigned vociferously for its inclusion at the Games and his efforts were finally rewarded in 2017.

Sat next to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, Baumann’s son Paul, was there to witness the crowning of the maiden Olympic 3x3 basketball champions. Zagklis admitted his father was never far away from their thoughts as they watched his dream become a reality.

"Our thoughts were all the time about him," Zagklis said.

"It was for us an emotionally complicated evening. But we did our best and we believe we delivered at the level that not only we, but also he, would have dreamt of seeing."

3x3 basketball made a successful Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
3x3 basketball made a successful Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

It is hard to argue with the Greek official. There were doubters and sceptics about 3x3’s Olympic inclusion but it is fair to say the sport, and FIBA, answered them emphatically.

FIBA was dealt a poor hand but still managed to take home the pot.

If FIBA could have picked a match to showcase what the sport has to offer on the grandest stage of them all, it would have been the men’s final between the Russian Olympic Committee and Latvia, won with a last-gasp two-pointer from Latvia’s Karlis Lasmanis.

The only thing missing was out of FIBA’s control. The moment where the ball dropped through the hoop should have sparked pandemonium in the stands of the temporary venue at Aomi Urban Sports Park, but like most of the other Olympic venues there was merely a smattering of noise from the attending athletes and officials.

"I don’t want to think any more about how that venue would vibrate last night in a gold medal game decided with the last second two-point shot in front of 7,500 people," Zagklis said.

The ban on spectators at the Games has hit FIBA hard, perhaps harder than most of the sports on the Olympic programme.

3x3 - called 3 'x' three rather than 3x3 and where the goal is to either score the most points in 10 minutes or reach the golden number of 21 - is tailor-made for the urban park concept, where fans venue-hop and take in entertainment in a festival-style atmosphere.

Its short, sharp format lends itself perfectly to the casual fan, who can take in as many as three matches in a single hour, and you need not be a basketball expert to understand the rules.

The men's final between the ROC and Latvia was a perfect showcase of the merits of 3x3 ©Getty Images
The men's final between the ROC and Latvia was a perfect showcase of the merits of 3x3 ©Getty Images

FIBA had also been planning to allow spectators without tickets to catch a glimpse of the players in the warm-up area, with Zagklis predicting more than 70,000 would have attended the five days of 3x3 competition at Tokyo 2020.

It is a crying shame that 3x3’s Olympic debut was played out in front of a largely empty arena, rather than the packed stands which would have greeted the players had fans been permitted.

After all, FIBA has been lobbying for its inclusion at the Games ever since it made its first appearance at an IOC event, the Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010.

Still, the sport attracted a host of big names and world leaders at Tokyo 2020, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States. Zagklis said Polish President Andrzej Duda was so impressed after watching a morning session that he returned in the evening, while members of the IOC were spotted getting fully involved in the gold medal matches.

"We were very pleased to see a number of members of the Olympic Family, some of whom came more than once," Zagklis added.

"That was a strong indication that 3x3 is getting new audiences very fast. They wanted to see more and be entertained more."

Attention for FIBA’s 3x3 odyssey now turns to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, where the sport is set to be held in the iconic Place de la Concorde as part an urban park planned by French organisers.

Zagklis revealed that FIBA would look at scheduling an extra competition day at Paris 2024 to give players more rest - the teams which reached the finals played two games each day - and promised more off-court entertainment at the event in three years' time.

There is little doubt Tokyo 2020 was just the start for 3x3. After Paris, the Games move on to Los Angeles in 2028, the birthplace of traditional basketball where the street-style 3x3 format also originated, and then Brisbane in 2032, another country with a keen interest in the sport.

Zagklis revealed FIBA had "already had very good preliminary discussions on the location for 3x3" with Los Angeles 2028, while the plan of Brisbane 2032 for 3x3 has also been presented to the governing body. 

It is not unimaginable that 3x3 becomes a staple of an ever-changing Olympic programme in the years to come.

"We said on day one that this was a historic milestone and I believe the objective of FIBA has been achieved," Zagklis said.

"It has attracted the attention of the Olympic Movement, as well as of the fans who do not regularly watch basketball, whether that is the traditional or 3x3.

"What was for us a priority was the experience of the athletes and all of them really come out of this saying ‘our dream from the streets to the Olympics has come true’.

"I think 3x3 will continue impressing audiences worldwide. 3x3 is here to stay."