Basketball has become a staple at the Olympics. Whenever the Summer Games roll around, eyes all around the world (and particularly in America) fixate toward the basketball tournaments that feature NBA and WNBA elites.
This held true once again for Tokyo, but with a twist — basketball 3x3 was added to the mix.
While similar to 5-on-5 basketball in principle, 3x3 is a much different game from its more popular counterpart. There are only four players on a team (three allowed on the court at a time), it's played on a half court instead of a full-sized court, the ball is smaller, there are no three-pointers and games can be won in two ways — be the first to 21 or have the highest score through 10 minutes.
The basketball 3x3 competition in Tokyo was must-see hoops action for fans around the world, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Team USA's regular women's basketball squad was looking to make history in Tokyo by winning its seventh-straight gold medal, but the women's 3x3 team ended up making some history of its own.
The U.S. women made it all the way to the gold medal game and took down the ROC to win the first-ever Olympic women's 3x3 title. As if the U.S. needed any more notoriety in the sport of basketball, Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young were dominant in the 3x3 tournament, only losing one game during pool play.
Young, who ended up playing a key defensive role for Team USA, initially didn't make the 3x3 squad, but Katie Lou Samuelson was unable to compete in Tokyo after testing positive for COVID-19, giving Young an opportunity to play alongside her WNBA peers.
China also took home a medal from the 3x3 tournament. After going 5-2 during pool play, the Chinese quartet of Yang Shuyu, Zhang Zhiting, Wan Jiyuan and Wang Lili took down the French to earn their first 3x3 bronze.
The U.S. was considered one of the favorites to win 3x3 gold on the men's side before the Tokyo Olympics began. Shockingly, the U.S. men's team, led by Robbie Hummel, was unable to qualify for the competition.
Instead of Team USA winning another gold medal in basketball, it was Latvia who took the title. The Latvians, comprised of Nauris Miezis, Karlis Lasmanis, Edgars Krumins and Agnis Cavars, also took down the ROC by a score of 21-18 to win their gold medal.
Latvia's men went 4-3 during pool play and actually lost to the ROC in an early-round tilt, but made up for it by bringing their A-game in the final.
While the ROC couldn't bring home a gold medal, it was still an impressive outing as they took home silver in both the men's and women's competition.
One of the underrated storylines of the men's competition was the play of Ira Brown for Japan. The 39-year-old was drafted into Major League Baseball by the Kansas City Royals in 2001, but the court turned out to be where he belonged. Japan only won one game during pool play and failed to qualify for the knockout rounds, but Brown's participation in the Olympics at all was something directly out of a Hollywood script.
RETURNING FOR PARIS
If you liked the basketball 3x3 competition in Tokyo, it's only expected to get better in three years.
Basketball 3x3 is set to return to the Olympics for Paris in 2024 along with several other new sports that debuted in Tokyo, including surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding.
If 3x3's inclusion in Paris serves as any indication, it may not take long for it to become a staple at the Games for years to come.