With a professional league helping Indians with a platform, the new version of the game might help India break into the Olympics.
2020 is set to be a landmark year for basketball in India, as the nation prepares to host the first-ever 3x3 basketball Olympic Qualifying Tournament in March.
Twenty mens and twenty womens teams will battle it out for three Olympic spots in the 3x3 basketball tournament which is set to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
3x3 basketball has grown leaps and bounds as a sport since its debut at the Youth Olympics in 2010, and one of the chief contributors towards its rise in Asia has been former Japanese international player Rohit Bakshi.
The entrepreneur is the commissioner of the 3BL — India’s 3x3 professional basketball league — and has high hopes from the upcoming Olympic Qualifying tournament.
Bakshi, who was born and brought up in Japan, has been a basketball enthusiast for over three decades. Having been drawn towards 3x3 basketball in 2005 and playing professionally till 2017, he first envisioned starting a basketball league in 2010, a year after he moved to India.
“When I moved to India in 2009, I realised that India did not have a professional basketball league and due to that, a lot of talent goes to waste,” said Bakshi in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel. “When there’s a professional league, players have something to look forward to. You can make a living out of it. Basketball in India was played more as a hobby, and once the hobby is over, you start losing interest.”
In 2015, Bakshi began to lay the groundwork for his dream and in 2018, his hard work paid dividends as India had a first professional basketball league in the 3BL.
Season one of the league featured 12 teams that travelled across six cities in India. Delhi Hoopers were the most consistent side in the league and were crowned champions of the inaugural season of 3BL.
Season two also features 12 men’s teams, however, the league has expanded and added six women’s teams that will play for the first-ever 3BL women’s championship.
Bakshi is overjoyed by the support the league has received so far from the fans, the Basketball Federation of India, as well the various state bodies, and believes that 3BL will be a gamechanger for basketball in India.
While giving Indian hoopers a league to play was Bakshi’s primary goal, the 35-year-old also aspires to help India win an Olympic medal in 3x3 basketball. “It was a dream (of mine) to put India on the Olympic map in basketball and we are one step closer now by hosting the Olympic Qualifiers,” said Bakshi.
He also believes that both the men’s and women’s 3x3 basketball teams can book their berths at Tokyo 2020 through the qualifying tournament in March.
“3x3 basketball as of now is not very popular in most parts of the world. Not many players are ready for the strategies and not many players are excelling in the format. So the Indian teams have an edge because we have been running a league for the past two years. So I believe that with the right personnel, India can definitely qualify for the 3x3 tournament at Tokyo 2020.”
The popularity of basketball is soaring in the nation and the 3x3 Olympic Qualifiers will only propel it further.
Should the Indian men’s and women’s teams manage to earn an Olympic berth in March, it could be the dawn of a whole new era for the sport in India.