What would the painter Peter Paul Rubens think? Under the eyes of the statue of the ingenious baroque artist, the beats of the Groeneplaats in the heart of Antwerp thump. Contrary to Ruben’s lavish body ideal, it’s twisted and tall athletes who compete at the World Championships in 3×3 basketball. Among them, for the first time since 2014, both German teams.
“The atmosphere is fantastic. Here the matches are absolutely celebrated,” says national coach Mathias Weber in an interview with DW. His goal: to get as far as possible with both teams and compete with the world elite. The German women even came to Belgium as the world number one. “We are honored by that and we are happy to take it with us,” Weber said, explaining the importance of the rankings, “but that does not automatically mean we are the best team.”
When you think back to your streetball roots, the three-on-three format is not radically new, but one thing changes everything: 3×3 is Olympic. Medals were awarded for the first time in Tokyo in 2021. Before the upcoming matches in Paris in the summer of 2024, the sport will undergo a huge boost in terms of professionalization. “A lot is happening there,” Weber confirms, “tactically, but we will also see a leap forward in terms of athletics.”
If you really want to play for Olympic medals, do not rely on ragtag teams of “normal” basketball players, you need real 3×3 specialists. With scarce sports equipment, the German teams are dependent on creativity: the core of the German women’s team around Svenja Brunckhorst, Sonja Greinacher and Luana Rodefeld is supported by the Bundeswehr, another concept applies to men.
As Team Düsseldorf at the World Cup
Düsseldorf takes care of the men’s national team. “We have identified 3×3 as a very young, dynamic, sustainable sport that we would like to be present in,” the city explains its commitment. In 2021, Düsseldorf provided start-up assistance to the professional men’s team and brought a fashion brand on board as the main sponsor. Emre Atsür, former Turkish youth international, is responsible for the project: “It is a sensation for us that we as Team Düsseldorf make the national team available at this World Cup.”
Atsür sees the advantage of the 3×3 in that it is possible to stand on the big stage with a relatively small effort. Atsür stresses that it is “much harder” for women because there is still no global tournament series. Nevertheless, there will soon be a professional women’s team in Düsseldorf in collaboration with a Japanese company. German and Japanese top players should be able to develop further together.
In parallel with the development of beach volleyball
The World Cup in Antwerp and the simultaneous competitions for the German championship as part of the “Final” in Berlin are an indicator of the popularity of the basketball variant. The hopes are high, the parallels to the success of beach volleyball are obvious. With competitions in the cities, the sport offers an event character. Top-class music, lifestyle and sports blend in and offer an attractive environment for sponsors.
The spectators still get enough action – also the 1800s in the specially built arena in Antwerp. The duels know virtually no idle. The winner is the one who first reaches 21 points or leads after ten minutes of play. Versatile players are required who can defend, dribble and throw. “The crucial thing is the bite, the willingness to constantly get involved,” says national coach Weber, describing the mental demands profile, “it’s faster than regular basketball. I need to be able to forget mistakes I’ve made very quickly and move on right away. “
Everyone does everything: In 3×3 there are no classic “role players” as in conventional basketball
The young sport is also exciting because there are still no teams that have dominated for years. Although Serbia is considered the most developed country in 3×3, it was only enough for bronze at the Olympics in Tokyo. The basketball superpower USA did not even qualify for the men, but the women won the gold medal.
In the medium term, the foundation will also be crucial to success at the top. Things are still looking bad in Germany, says Dr. Karsten Schul from DW: “Only a third of the physical education teachers in the schools know 3×3 at all.” The lecturer from the Institute for Sports Game Research at the German Sports University in Cologne considers the basketball variant to be ideal, especially for school sports. “I get more kids moving in the same room. They all have more ball actions, more throws and can even organize their games better. There are consistently positive effects.”
Interest also from top players
While this may lay the foundation for future success in schools, the dream of the Olympics lures already seasoned basketball players from the regular variant to 3×3. National player Leonie Fiebich is active in Antwerp for Germany. Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, WNBA player Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings was part of the German 3×3 team. However, national coach Weber believes that not only the prospect of participating in the Olympics plays a role. “They just love this kind of game. The basic idea, ‘gambling’ without the rigid structures like in five-on-five.”
If the German 3×3 basketball teams succeed at the World Cup in Antwerp, their chances of being there in Paris in 2024 will increase. Because it’s already about qualifying for the Olympics, which is closely linked to rankings. In Paris, however, medals are not “played” under the eyes of Peter Paul Ruben, but in the shadow of the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde.