Japan hasn’t really appeared on the global map in basketball’s conventional five-man game.
But when it comes to the 3×3 game, which basketball governing body FIBA is keen to promote worldwide, Japan is playing significant role.
FIBA has run the World Tour circuit, the club world championship for the 3×3 game, since 2012, and has granted Japan hosting rights to one of the seven Masters tournaments over the next three years, starting this year. Japan will also host the World Tour Final in 2019.
FIBA also runs the 3×3 World Championships, in which national teams compete, but the World Tour is regarded as the game’s flagship event.
For the 2016 season, the champion and runnerup in each Masters tournament will advance to the final in the United Arab Emirates in October.
For the Japan round, the tournament will be held in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Pref., roughly 130 km north of Tokyo. The tourney will be the second round of the Masters circuit, which will be held on July 30-31 for the 2016 campaign. A total of 12 teams, which qualify through preliminaries, will advance to the Utsunomiya Masters.
The circuit will kick off in Mexico City on July 16 and wrap up in Rio de Janeiro in September. The Utsunomiya Masters will be run by major sports retail chain Xebio Holdings Co. Ltd.
Takaaki Nakamura, president of Xross Sports Marketing, Inc. — a subsidiary company of Xebio — insists that, unlike most other sports, the 3×3 game doesn’t require huge financial and structural investment. Because the 3×3 game doesn’t need to be held in a gym like the conventional five-a-side basketball game, it has the flexibility to be held anywhere, including in attractive, scenic locations.
Nakamura, who is also commissioner of the Japanese domestic 3×3 Premier.EXE league, thinks that is what separates the game from others, and also separates one World Tour Masters event from another, with each event having unique backgrounds and settings.
The Utsunomiya tournament will provide a genuine Japanese atmosphere. The competition will be played at the 1,600-year-old Utsunomiya Futaarayama shrine in the center of the city.
“The place has the shrine but when you look around, you’ll see commercial buildings,” Nakamura told The Japan Times in a recent interview in Tokyo. “So it shows off Japan’s tradition while also showing Japan as an advanced country. I think that people around the world look at us as a country that has that combination, and this place can really showcase that.”
Nakamura believes that the 3×3 game, which is also widely known as 3-on-3, and the World Tour Masters circuit has so much potential to grow, considering the large basketball-playing population in Japan.
Nakamura says that, of the 680,000 players registered with the Japan Basketball Association, the majority of them are high school players or younger and most of them quit playing after graduation. He thinks the 3×3 game could provide a chance for them to continue to play.
“There’s potential,” Nakamura said. “Plus, there are others that play outside the school clubs. So I think that it could create a big market.”
Japan hosted a World Tour Masters in Tokyo in 2013 and the final in Sendai in 2014, and Alex Sanchez, FIBA’s 3×3 managing director, has full confidence in the national federation and Xebio to make the upcoming Masters events successful.
“Japan brought the World Tour to a whole new level with an absolute show mixing 3×3 basketball and entertainment,” Sanchez said in an email. “With the World Tour guaranteed to visit (Japan) for the next four years, we expect the event to be a resounding success and to be promoted as one of the No. 1 sporting events in the country.”
FIBA hopes to get 3×3 basketball added as a new discipline in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which would boost the game’s recognition and popularity. The game has already been played at the University Games and Youth Olympics.
The announcement for the inclusion of new sports and disciplines will be made at the IOC meetings in August.
“The success of the World Tour is decisive to get the game in the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo,” Sanchez said. “The World Tour is our best showcase to prove 3×3 belongs in the Olympics with a young audience following the games in our iconic urban locations and on YouTube and the other social media networks.”