Craig Moore works in Manhattan. Most mornings he rises in his two-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side slips on a suit with no tie and rides the M-Train to a Midtown skyscraper to begin his day as a financial wealth manager.
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The first Olympics I remember watching was the Dream Squad in 1992, the 30-year-old Moore speaks. As a kid, my wish was to play in the Olympics. It’s never really gone away, but I never thought it could happen.” Moore, a former sharpshooting guard at Northwestern who holds the school record for most three-point field goals and is sixth all-time in the Big Ten, is one of the top 3-on-3 basketball players in the world.
His range is almost Steph Curry-like—he developed his stroke on the hoop in his Doylestown, Pennsylvania, driveway—and he’ll be on the four-man team representing the United States. In Lausanne, Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee is expected to vote to include 3-on-3 basketball in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. The division would mark the conclusion of a seven-year effort by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body.
Meanwhile FIBA debuted 3-on-3 at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore, pickup games have flowered in all corners of the world, especially in urban areas, from the streets of Manila to the alleys of Hong Kong to the parks of Mumbai.
“The courage behind making 3-on-3 an Olympic game is to really open up Olympic basketball to parts of the world that fight to field 12-person teams in the 5-on-5 competition,” says Jim Tooley, the chief executive of USA Basketball.
The 3-on-3 is now played in countries like the Philippines, Estonia, Hungary and the Central African Republic. It is much more accessible. It is a totally different style of game. It is an incredibly fast-paced sprint. After a change of possession on a missed shot or a turnover, the ball must be taken back beyond the three-point arc. The same rule applies after a made basket.
“The game of 3-on-3 basketball is all about spacing, passing angles, screening, motion without the ball and strategy, because you are in such a confined space,” says Matt Santangelo. “Each player in 3-on-3 needs to have a hybrid skillset because everyone has to do everything—score, rebound, and pass.”
The 3-on-3 ball is a little smaller than the standard NBA ball. It is easier to handle and shoot, but it’s also proven to be harder for taller players with larger hands to control. The Shooting is really at a premium in 3-on-3, more so than in the NBA, because in these games you cannot hide on the floor, Santangelo says.
A big question which has yet to be answered is whether NBA players would be interested in participating. The Tooley of USA Basketball, a few NBA guys have expressed interest in possibly playing. The more likely scenario is that recently retired NBA players (Kevin Garnett?) and veterans who are now playing overseas (Josh Smith?) could make a push for the team.
There’s also the BIG3 factor. Later this month the new professional 3-on-3 league, which was created by Ice Cube and will feature players such as Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, and Jermaine O’Neal, will begin playing throughout the summer. Could this whet the 3-on-3 Olympic appetite for any of these past stars? The Credentials won’t land you a spot on the Olympic team, because USA Basketball isn’t going to handpick either the men’s or women’s squad that represents the red, white and blue.
So, in theory, a group of weekend warriors at your local YMCA or the high-flyers from places like Rucker Park in Harlem or the Venice Beach courts in California could become Olympians.
“The genesis of FIBA wanting to get 3-on-3 in the Olympics was to give an extensive range of basketball players a chance to become Olympians,” says Stu Jackson.
“We don’t know who will be interested in competing to represent the U.S., but pure athleticism is not as important on 3-on-3 as it is in 5-on-5. So this could open the door for former high-level college players, who perhaps fans haven’t heard much about, to have a shot at representing our country.”
Enter a hooper like Craig Moore. He plays 5-on-5 two times a week at the New York Athletic Club in games that routinely feature the likes of NBA players such as Ben Gordon and Dahntay Jones. In a few days, his 3-on-3 team—which includes former college standouts Zahir Carrington (Lehigh), Damon Huffman (Brown) and Dan Mavraides (Princeton)—will begin practicing at the Athletic Club before it travels to France for the World Cup.
“We have a text chain going among the players on the squad and we are letting each other know about our workouts and we’ll talk a little tactic,” Moore says.
We have got some guys in New York who will come practice against us over their lunch breaks to help us get ready. The 3-on-3 is all about situational basketball, so these practices will be important.
Craig Moore’s team won the USA Basketball Men’s 3X3 National Tournament in Chicago to advance to the World Cup. Will the Americans be the favorites in France? The IOC, part of the allure of 3-on-3 is the hope that closer games will create a compelling television product—one specifically marketed to a younger audience in the way beach volleyball and snowboarding have been promoted.
People want prompt gratification, and this sport will give them that, says Tooley, the CEO of USA Basketball.
“We are hoping this will get more kids wanting to get involved in basketball. Craig Moore, the grassroots game of 3-on-3 has always fired his imagination. Michael Jordan trying to hit last-second game to win gold. When I was six, I thought I could be the best in the world,” he says. “But that faded as I grew up. Now just to have an outside chance at playing in the Olympics 2020.”