Basketball at the Olympics: Rules and which NBA stars will feature

Basketball always draws in crowds at the Olympic Games and Tokyo 2020 will be no different.

Basketball Olympics guide

Basketball is characterised by frenetic end-to-end action as the five-person teams switch from offence to defence and back again.

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If you’ve ever wondered why basketball looks so frantic, it’s simply because it’s designed that way, to thrill with end-to-end pace.

While some sports don’t feature mainstream stars, basketball is truly an exception with a strong clutch of NBA players ready to shine on the global stage.

The US team is the favourite to seize the crown once again – but can anyone stop them?

RadioTimes.com brings you up to speed with everything you need to know about basketball at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in the summer of 2021.

  • Viewers who are looking to watch each and every sport from the Tokyo Olympics 2020, you can tune in for full coverage via online streaming platform discovery+

When is basketball at the Olympics?

Basketball runs between Sunday 25th July until Sunday 8th August.

Medal finals will take place on the last two days of the competitions.

3×3 Basketball goes from Saturday 24th July until Wednesday 28th July.

Check out our guide on how to watch Olympics 2020 or see Olympics on TV today for more details, timings, and exclusive expert analysis from some of the biggest names in world sport over the coming weeks.

Sir Chris Hoy, Beth Tweddle, Rebecca Adlington, Matthew Pinsent and Dame Jess Ennis-Hill are among the stars we have to being their esteemed opinions, so don’t miss what they have to say.

Olympic basketball rules

Teams are under constant time pressure from the rules, which demand that teams take a shot within 24 seconds of taking possession of the ball, can’t remain in the goal area for more than three seconds, and have to advance the ball beyond the halfway line within ten seconds of receiving it. 

Points are scored by putting the ball through the hoop, either by throwing or via the famous dunk (see ‘Michael Jordan’ for more).

Three points are awarded for a successful shot from outside the three point line, which is an arc of 6.25 metres from the centre of the basket.

Two points are awarded for a successful shot from inside the line, and one for scoring from a free throw, the basketball equivalent of a penalty kick.

The teams compete on a 28m x 15m court over the course of four 10-minute periods.

A new 3×3 format has also been introduced for the Tokyo Olympics, meaning that there will be four separate tournaments – two in each discipline for the men’s and women’s teams.

The main tournaments will be contested by 12 teams split into four groups of three for an initial round-robin stage.

The top two teams in each group, and the two best third-placed teams will be seeded into a traditional knockout system.

Does Team GB have an Olympic basketball team?

Sadly, Team GB didn’t qualify in any of the four basketball events. The men’s event will be contested by teams from the United States, Spain, Australia, Argentina, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Germany, Nigeria, Iran and Japan.

The United States are usually the team to beat, having won gold at the last three Olympics.

Despite a surprise loss to Nigeria in their last exhibition match, they remain the hot favourites, although the Australian team is packed with NBA professionals and should mount a strong challenge, as will Spain, the current basketball world cup gold medal holders.

The US women’s team has an even more enviable record than the men, having won six consecutive gold medals. Competition for their seventh will come from Canada, France, Australia, Spain, Belgium, Serbia, China, Japan, Nigeria, South Korea and Puerto Rico.

Which NBA players will play at the Olympics?

The US team is jam-packed with superstars. The list includes: Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard and Kevin Love among others.

The US is a traditional powerhouse of Olympic basketball and is considered favourite to claim the men’s crown once more.

It’s not just American NBA players involved at the Olympics. Numerous other stars will feature for their homelands including Luka Doncic with Slovenia.

What is 3×3 basketball?

The inclusion of 3×3 (pronounced three-ex-three) has been championed by the sports governing body, FIBA.

The game is played on half a court, with only one net, by teams of three players. It has its origins in casual games on public courts, where teams are small and changeable and space for multiple games is at a premium. This type of play is so commonplace that an IOC study suggested that it’s the largest urban team sport in the world.

Because the sport takes place on half a traditional five-a-side court there are some incongruities, most notably the fact that the three point line is still used, despite the fact that shots from outside it are only worth two points.

The pace of play is even more hectic than traditional basketball, with no breaks in play after a point is scored, and only 12 seconds allowed between taking possession and taking a shot.

Unlike traditional basketball, the US isn’t the hot favourite for the 3×3. Serbia embraced the sport, building teams separately from its five-a-side squads and becoming the hot favourites for Olympic gold. 

Read more – check out our comprehensive guides to the Olympic sports: Archery | Cycling | Field Hockey | Gymnastics | Rowing | Skateboarding | Taekwondo | Water Polo

Radio Times Olympics Special issue is on sale now.

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