Robbie Hummel was skeptical about 3x3 basketball before eventually diving head-first into it. After his NBA career ended, he was covering college basketball games for ESPN and Big Ten Network and was excited about getting his job as a media analyst underway. There was simply no reason for him to get back into playing on an international level.
So what convinced him to finally travel overseas and give 3x3 a try?
"Honestly, the only reason I went was because I'd never been to Asia," he said with a laugh.
"It's a free trip to Seoul, at the worst case I'll go over there and at least get to see a country I've never been to. I really wasn't sure what I was getting myself into."
What he was getting himself into was the next chapter of his basketball career. Hummel was playing 3x3 all over the world at a high level, and it wasn't long before he helped guide Team USA to a gold medal at the 2019 FIBA 3x3 World Cup in Amsterdam. Fast forward a couple years and 3x3 is set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Hummel, of course, is expected to play a key role for the United States as they look to not only qualify for the Olympic tournament, but compete for gold.
However, there are also still a lot of unknowns about 3x3, particularly in North America. The 3x3 game is still catching wind in the United States, and Hummel, along with fellow 3x3 Olympic hopefuls Kareem Maddox and Allisha Gray, are eager to showcase their sport on a world stage.
The main differences between 3x3 and 5-on-5 are pretty self-explanatory -- there are two fewer players on the court for each team and it's played on a half court instead of a full NBA-sized 94-foot floor. But that's only the beginning.
Unlike a game of full-court 5-on-5 basketball, the 3x3 game is akin to the style of basketball many average fans are familiar with when they invite their friends over to play in the driveway.
"There are times where we travel to these tournaments and the setting is urban, you're playing outside, there's music playing while the games are going on, you're wrapping your own ankles at times, and it feels gritty," said Maddox. "I think that's the way a lot of people think about 3-on-3 basketball when they go to their local park and play with their friends."
"I look at it a lot kind of like beach volleyball is to normal volleyball. It's a really cool spin on a really popular sport," said Hummel. "It's a different animal than 5-on-5. You're on offense, you're on defense, you're on offense, it's so back and forth with the way the game is played where if the other team scores and I'm defending, we're taking it out of the net and we're on offense immediately. So I think it's fast-paced, it's fun to watch, the offense certainly has an advantage with how much space there is on the floor."
And with more space on the floor, there's less margin for error -- and barely enough time to get a breather.
"Even when you get subbed out and you watch on the sideline, it's amazing to watch overall," said Gray. "It's a very fun game, fast-paced, and you've got to be in top-tier shape as well because you only get breaks during the dead ball, so you've gotta be in top-tier shape."
The 5-on-5 game, as usual, is sure to draw plenty of attention at the Olympics. With current NBA and WNBA stars representing the United States, it's only natural for fans to focus on the big names as they aim to keep Team USA's reign of dominance alive. But 3x3 will be a spectacle of its own. It's unique, innovative and unlike anything fans of the 5-on-5 game have seen before.
We're not in Kansas anymore.
"I think that it's a different look at basketball," said Maddox. "It's fast-paced and people will really gravitate towards it, and having the Olympics add the debut, I think we'll get a lot of eyes on it."
All quotes courtesy of USOPC.