When three-on-three basketball makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, Latvia will be there. Poland too. But a men’s team from the United States, the birthplace of basketball and winner of 15 of 19 men’s gold medals in the traditional five-on-five game, won’t.
The Americans were eliminated from the Netherlands in a qualifying tournament in Austria on Sunday, December 21st.
How did it happen?
One clue is the list of American men. It consisted of Dominique Jones, Robbie Hummel, Kareem Maddox and Joey King. All of them were skilled college players. In preparation for the games, all of them have refined their games in three-on-three for several years. But they barely represent the best players the US can offer.
Several factors prevented the US from bringing out a threesome like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. For one, the best NBA players right now are in the Middle of the playoffs.
Still, it wouldn’t have been possible to crowd a group of stars from teams that weren’t in the playoffs. In the hope of promoting its three-on-three tournaments around the world, the international association FIBA has commissioned the Olympic hopefuls to collect points at these events. Since they were held in the winter, all NBA players and even most of the Americans played for European teams were out.
FIBA knows what it is doing. She hopes to develop the game beyond the Olympics, so she encourages participation in other, lesser-known events. She also wants to include as many countries as possible. The US men did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup either, but Andorra with 77,000 inhabitants did, in part only because of the appearance.
“Andorra has a strong turnout every weekend” an official stated at the time.
The irreconcilability of the qualifying tournament over the weekend didn’t help. The US won their pool with a 3-1 record. But that only got them to the quarterfinals. The loss to the Netherlands eliminated them as only the top three teams rose for the eight-team Olympic tournament.
In a three-on-three game – or 3×3, as FIBA calls it – baskets are worth 1 point. What would be a 3-point shot in regular play is worth 2 points. The Dutch made four 2-pointers down the track to push the Americans away.
“Of course it’s not the ending we wanted,” said Joe Lewandowski, who holds the title of coach / consultant (coaching is not allowed during the games). He is the head coach at Point Park University, an NAIA school in Pittsburgh. The men’s traditional five-on-five team has qualified and is being coached by Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
Another American team in a very American sport will face their own challenge this week when men’s baseball sends out minor league players to qualify for the games.
Kara Lawson Duke coached the US women’s three-on-three team, which qualified with ease for the games, putting it in his pool with 4: 0 ended and Belarus with 21: defeated 13: 10 and Spain 21 . The winner is the first team with 21 points or the leader after 10 minutes. (Dawn Staley of South Carolina will coach the women in the five-on-five games.)
The three-on-three-squad of women has much better known name, all with WNBA experience: Allisha Gray of the Dallas Wings, Stefanie Dolson Chicago Sky, Katie Lou Samuelson Seattle Storm and Kelsey Plum from Las Vegas Aces, a former No. 1 overall design. Since the WNBA is a summer league, there was an opportunity to recruit some top players who were able to collect points at FIBA events in the winter.
These stars are now returning to their WNBA teams. The players in the men’s teams, on the other hand, include a news producer and a development specialist.
Although there is still one place left in the men’s field at the Olympics, the US does not qualify for it. In another bizarre decision by FIBA, this place is reserved only for nations that did not have a team at the 2012 or 2016 Olympic Games. Men from Mongolia, Hungary or Romania could be at the games while the nation of Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving watch from home.