“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.

The FIBA 3x3 isn’t one of Vin Diesel’s twilight street-race filled with adrenaline junkies seeking the thrill of speed. It exudes a different kind of adrenaline, one based on the human athletic performance of 3x3 streetball.

The LA Street Festival hosted the first ever FIBA 3x3 Basketball World Cup in the United States on Sept. 20-21. Representing the USA, Team Princeton claimed the cup’s victory, and L.A. native player Kareem Maddox took home the tournament’s MVP title.

Team Princeton's Kareem Maddox prepares to shoot a three against Rio Norte Lendas RJ in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo/Sarah Ko)
Team Princeton's Kareem Maddox prepares to shoot a three against Rio Norte Lendas RJ in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo/Sarah Ko)

The Olympic’s brand new sport -- 3x3 basketball -- is actually rooted in streetball. Streetball is an integral foundation for most professional basketball players because it’s open to everyone: bring your buddies to your local court and play quick pickup matches. It doesn’t matter if the court has double rims or chained hoops. All you needed were six people and a ball to play a quick outdoor half-court game of 3x3.

3x3 has cultivated further from a street standard pickup game since its onset in the ‘80s. The Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) established 3x3 as an officially organized sport in the 2010 Youth Olympics. Two years later, 3x3 basketball became an official international sport for both adult men and women.

Since its global establishment, 3x3 basketball has become a phenomenon, gaining more and more fans with each coming year.

Rapper Ice Cube and film director Jeff Kwatinetz established the BIG3, America’s first 3x3 league, in 2017. This perpetuated the sport’s popularity, featuring legendary players such as Lamar Odom, Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. However, the BIG3 appears to focus on entertainment whereas its international counterpart is concentrated on performance and competition.

Many are skeptical of 3x3’s caliber as its own Olympic sport. After all, 5x5 basketball already exists and is far more developed. Be that as it may, the rules and structure are entirely different.

The game only lasts for 10 minutes with a 12 second shot clock. Only one point is awarded when scoring within the arc and two points for every shot made outside the arc. Victory is awarded to the team who reaches 21 points first or the highest scoring team at the end of the 10 minutes.

The ball is live after successfully scoring, but only dead when it goes out of bounds. There is only one substitute and no time outs. But perhaps the biggest difference is that there are no coaches.

In contrast with 5x5 leagues such as the NBA, the players are compelled to coach themselves. FIBA rules dictate that no coaches are allowed on the court, bench and even on the edges outside the court. There simply is no time to draw up play, so the players have to be impulsive and creative with their ball movement and defense. The fast-paced nature and player empowerment of the game keeps them on their toes, making the game for audiences extremely enticing to watch.

“It’s a faster pace. The BIG3 is kind of like 5 on 5 with two less players, whereas this is a different sport… The style is a lot more physical,” Maddox said. “I love 3x3 because there’s less time to think. So a lot of times you’re not thinking; you’re reading and reacting. It’s instinctual basketball and that makes it a lot more fun.”

Serbian Team Liman's Mihailo Vasic blocks Russian Team Gagarin's Stanislav Sharov on a layup attempt in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo/Sarah Ko)
Serbian Team Liman's Mihailo Vasic blocks Russian Team Gagarin's Stanislav Sharov on a layup attempt in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo/Sarah Ko)

3x3 can be viewed as a “little brother” to 5x5, but it stands alone as its own sport. This new configuration of basketball brings in a heightened level of performance.

Team Princeton went undefeated at the LA Times powered event last weekend. Teammates Zahir Carrington, Damon Huffman, Robbie Hummel, Kareem Maddox, Dan Mavraides and Craig Moore continue to stay on top as America’s most competitive 3x3 team. As of last year, they were ranked No. 1 in the US and No. 6 worldwide. They are anxious to make their Olympic debut next year in Tokyo and hopefully take home the gold medal.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Maddox said. “I am just so lucky to have the opportunities that I do. I was never an NBA player. I just really invested in 3x3 and just thought that this was a way for me to carve out my niche. You’re competing against so many good athletes and to be doing it for the USA -- there’s not a feeling that’s really like it.”

The FIBA 3x3 World Cup Tour has already taken place in several countries, including Mexico, China and the Czech Republic. Their next destination is Seoul. There, several more teams will challenge to qualify for the finals in Utsunomiya, Japan later this November. Team Princeton is already among the top contenders for the finals championship. If they continue to execute their craft at a high level, they will have no problem taking home the World Cup title.

“Off the Rim” runs every Thursday.