For the first time at the Summer Olympics, basketball fans will have two disciplines to follow when a fast-paced, showy version of the traditional five-a-side game debuts in Tokyo. This new event may look familiar to anyone accustomed to hunting for pickup games on their neighborhood courts: Teams will compete in 10-minute, first-to-21-point games where flashy shooters are rewarded and play will move at breakneck speed, in part because the court is smaller. Sound fun? It’s meant to be — the introduction of three-on-three basketball is part of the never-ending effort to attract younger viewers to the Games.

Here’s what to know about three-on-three basketball at the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you play three-on-three basketball?
  • What are the major rule differences from traditional FIBA basketball?
  • Which nations are competing in three-on-three?
  • What is the three-on-three tournament format?
  • What is the three-on-three basketball schedule in Tokyo?
  • Where will the games take place?

How do you play three-on-three basketball?

The three-on-three game resembles a formalized version of pickup basketball. Teams, which consist of three players and one sub on the bench, compete in first-to-21 games. If neither side reaches 21 points after 10 minutes, winners are decided by whichever team is ahead. The court measures 11 meters in length and 15 meters in width, about half the size of a traditional basketball court, and is divided into two areas by a semicircle. Buckets scored inside the arc are worth one point and buckets scored outside are worth two.

The game begins with a coin toss, with the winner deciding which team gets possession. Players must clear the ball back to around the semicircle after rebounds and possession switches after every made basket.

In addition to the four players on each team, refs will be present on court, but coaches are not permitted. Coaches take on a more advisory role in three-on-three basketball.

What are the major rule differences from traditional FIBA basketball?

Overtime: If the score is tied at the end of regulation, overtime begins with the team that started the game on defense getting first possession. The first side to score two points in overtime wins. But keep in mind, 21 is the maximum number of points a team can score in three-on-three basketball. If teams are tied at 20 at the end of regulation, whichever team scores one point first in overtime wins the game.

Substitutions: Each team is allowed one sub on the bench, who can enter the game during dead-ball situations by tagging an outgoing player.

Shot clock: As with traditional basketball, a shot clock determines the amount of time a team on offense has to attempt a shot. In three-on-three basketball, the shot clock is just 12 seconds, half of the time allowed in an NBA game.

Equipment: The ball used in three-on-three basketball is the same weight (22 ounces) as the ball used in FIBA five-on-five games but measures 28.5 inches in diameter rather than 29.5. The smaller ball is meant to facilitate the better ball handling needed for the game’s faster pace.

Which nations are competing in three-on-three?

Mongolia will compete in a team sport in the Summer Olympics for the first time with its three-on-three women’s squad — the nation has only entered competitors in individual sports before the Tokyo Games — and the Russian Olympic Committee will field a team in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

The women’s field: France, Russian Olympic Committee, China, Romania, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, United States

The men’s field: Serbia, Russian Olympic Committee, Latvia, Netherlands, China, Japan, Poland, Belgium

Here’s an explanation of Russian athletes, from The Washington Post’s guide to the Tokyo Games:

Russia won’t formally be competing in Tokyo, but plenty of Russians will be. Still dogged by a lingering doping controversy, the country was issued a four-year ban from international sporting events in 2019, which was reduced last December to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The punishment still means Russia will have no official presence — no flag, no anthem — at the Tokyo Games.
The Washington Post

What is the three-on-three tournament format?

Eight teams will play a round robin, sometimes playing two games a day.

What is the three-on-three basketball schedule in Tokyo?

The tournament runs from July 24 to July 28. The round-robin event ends the same day that the quarterfinals begin, July 27, and the semifinals and finals are set for July 28. Find a complete schedule here.

Where will the games take place?

Games will be played at Aomi Urban Sports Park, an outdoor venue that features a covered half-court and will host another new event this year, sport climbing.

Who are the gold medal favorites?

Though the U.S. women dominate in the traditional basketball event, they’re the lowest-ranked team in the field — No. 13 in the world — in the three-on-three game. No. 1 France, No. 3. Romania and No. 4 China should all compete for medals, as should the Russian Olympic Committee. Russia, though it won’t technically be competing in the Games, sits second in FIBA’s rankings.

In the men’s tournament, No. 1 Serbia rules behind Dusan Bulut, who is widely considered the best three-on-three player in the world. Other contenders include No. 4 Latvia, No. 7 Netherlands and the Russian Olympic Committee, as Russia sits sixth.

How did the game become an Olympic sport?

FIBA first adopted rules for three-on-three basketball in 2007, in part as a way to attract younger fans and in part as a quest to spread more global awareness of the sport. Look no further than Mongolia’s participation in the women’s tournament as evidence its efforts have paid off. The game made its debut at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 and was first contested in a World Cup in 2012. It was then selected as an official Olympic event in 2017 as the first Youth Olympic Games discipline ever included in the Olympic program.