If Istanbul is the city where worlds collide, I can survey the shrapnel from my seat in the bleachers. The dance team for the local Euroleague club, Anadolu Efes, shimmies its midriff courtside. The sound system cranks out raunchy hip-hop I can’t Shazam fast enough to catalog. Just beyond the court, as men in beards and women in headscarves hurry to and from buses and ferries, minarets of a mosque gaze judgmentally down.
The basketball taking place in the midst of this hand-to-hand cultural combat seems almost incidental: the final of the 3-on-3 World Tour, the centerpiece of efforts by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, to install halfcourt streetball as an Olympic sport. It may be French Montana’s command to drop that p----, b----, or Snoop Dogg’s to suck my motherf------ d---, or the news that Ludacris got ho’s in different area codes, but something moves Mike Hackman, the marketing man on the scene for Nike, to object. Hackman’s paymasters sponsor the World Tour for its ability to reach the global hoop roots.
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But the Swoosh hasn’t bargained for these musical associations, so Hackman lodges the first of several appeals that the man on the mic, a 300-pound Turkish guy who goes by D.J. XXXL, tone it the freak down. The music flows uninterrupted just the same, except for those occasions every few hours when the muezzin wails a call to prayer. Even in modern Turkey, Allah still sits above your average emcee in the pecking order. Judged alongside these multiple unlikelihoods, 3-on-3 in the Olympics hardly seems outlandish at all.
And that’s what this event, in Besiktas Port Square, is a stalking horse for. To be sure, 3-on-3 won’t make the program for the Rio Games in 2016. (FIBA refers to 3-on-3 as 3x3, with the “x” serving as a polyglot preposition.) But FIBA only unveiled the discipline three years ago, at the Youth Olympics in Singapore. An Under-18 world championship followed a year later, in Rimini, Italy; 2012 featured what is now a biennial Worlds for senior men’s and women’s national teams, as well as the first season of the World Tour. This is the culmination of Year Two of the Tour, which resembles the pro tennis tour in its particulars.
By competing in any of some 60 sanctioned events around the globe, an individual player accumulates points. Join up with others who can push a combined point total high enough, and your 3-on-3 team earns itself a spot at the World Tour stop in its catchment zone, which this past season included Rio (for South America), San Juan (North America), Tokyo (Asia), and Lausanne and Prague (Europe, Africa and the Middle East). The top two finishers at each of these five events earned 10 of the dozen berths in the Istanbul final, which this weekend makes for representatives from Indonesia (Jakarta), Japan (Nagoya), Canada (Saskatoon), the U.S.
(Staten Island), Venezuela (Caracas), Argentina (Nequen), Romania (Bucharest), Serbia (Novi Sad) and Slovenia (the towns of Brezovica and Kranj). Two additional spots went to winners of Turkish events staged to gin up local interest. While 3-on-3 in the Olympics would be organized by nationality, the World Tour permits players to form teams across borders, just as tennis pros such as Chile’s Hans Gildemeister and Ecuador’s Andres Gomez, or Canada’s Daniel Nestor and Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic, would connect to play doubles. Americans have already teamed up with Dutch, Greeks with Italians, and Romanians with Serbs, at FIBA-sanctioned events. “After a few years on the Tour, if you have a friendship with a guy from China, say, you might go, ‘Why don’t we give it a try?’” says FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann, who’s lobbying fellow members of the International Olympic Committee for a place on the program.