Playing the game of basketball is a blast! If you can’t play basketball the traditional way – 5-on-5 full-court – though, there are several alternatives. Playing 3×3 (or 3-on-3 as it is often referred to) is a worthy option if you don’t have enough people, or a full-court, for a game.

You may have seen 3×3 being played before. Maybe you tuned into a Big3 game and loved the half-court style of play. 3×3 is still basketball, but the rules are a bit different. 

Let’s break down 3×3 basketball in its entirety so next time you have 6 people and a half-court to work with, you can start up a game.

3×3’s History

While most 3×3 games aren’t affiliated with any league or professional entity, the history of 3×3 does include some organized moments. In 2017, FIBA added 3×3 basketball as a recognized Olympic sport

There are more recognizable “playground” versions of 3×3 as well with the Gus Macker and Hoop It Up tournaments held across the country. 

Growing up playing competitive basketball in the late-’90s, I was a part of both tournaments. I was able to watch local and state-wide Division 1 athletes play a brand of basketball that differed from their high school teams. While some teams bring a coach, the game is more freestyle than an organized high school-coached team.

But I digress. Official 3×3 rules didn’t take hold until tournaments like Macker and Hoop It Up originated. After these tournaments gained popularity, leagues with more exposure, like the Big3, took this version of the game to broadcast television. 

Prior to this, 3×3 was mainly governed by the 6 people playing in the game. There were street rules, but nothing was documented. Those rules weren’t officiated and were often the cause of many an argument among players. 

This article will cover both sets of rules – street and official – and highlight why it is people choose to play 3×3 in organized events.

Street 3×3 Basketball

Disclaimer: These rules are subject to change depending on who you play with! Street rules can cause arguments among players that can often only be settled by a shoot-off from three-point range!  

A 3×3 game can be started by anyone, at any time, who has a ball, hoop, and 5 other willing people. Many of the rules of 3×3 follow general basketball rules – out of bounds is still out of bounds, a foul is a foul, and the list goes on and on – but 3×3 does have specific distinctions from 5×5.

  • The game begins either by two captains choosing their teams or by the group lining up at either the free throw or three-point line to “shoot” for teams. The first three to make their shot are a team, leaving the other three to team up.
  • 3×3 only uses half of the basketball court. The game is started by someone “shooting” for ball. If they make it, the ball starts with them. If they miss, the other team starts with the ball. 
  • Each possession must start with the person who starts with the ball “checking” the ball to their defender. “Checking” consists of the offensive player passing the ball to the defensive player, who then passes it back. This is a simple way to show that both sides are ready to start the possession. 
  • The offensive player then must pass the ball to a teammate to start each possession. They cannot score the ball immediately after they have received the “check” ball from the defense. 
  • When a team scores, they get the ball back. The only way the defense gets on offense is by causing a turnover or getting a rebound from a missed shot.
  • When the defense gets either a turnover or rebound from the opposing team, they must bring the ball outside of the three-point arc to “clear” the ball. This act starts a new possession.
  • The only way the defense doesn’t have to clear the ball is if the offense shoots an airball. If the defense rebounds an airball under the basket, they can simply lay it up for a score. Any shot that hits the rim, however, must be brought outside the three-point arc to begin a new possession.
  • No foul shots are taken. If you are fouled, you get the ball back at the top of the key.
  • Similar to one-on-one games, two-point baskets are worth 1-point and three-point baskets are worth 2-points during a 3×3 game. Games are played to a pre-determined score. 11, 15, and/or 21 are common scores that games are played.
  • There is no shot clock, except for your friends ripping on you for taking too long.

Street basketball in any form can be a lot of fun. It mixes competition and exercise and could give you bragging rights over your friends if you come out on top. The fun that 3×3 games bring have been noticed, which is why leagues are started to showcase this iteration of the sport. Let’s cover those leagues now, and see how their rules differ from the streets.

Big3 Rules

The Big3 has gained popularity since its inception in 2017. Their league is much more structured than street 3×3. Here are the biggest rule differences that the Big3 employs while still keeping the essence of street 3×3 basketball intact.

  • The first team to 50 points wins and the team must win by at least 2 points. Baskets are worth 2 and 3-points like standard basketball field goals. The Big3 also has four-point zones on the court where baskets are worth 4-points.
  • There is a 14-second shot clock.
  • A shooting foul awards one free throw the same value of the shot taken (ex. If a 2-pointer is taken, the foul shot is worth two points)
  • Halftime occurs when a team reaches 25 points first.
  • There are no personal fouls awarded in Big3, meaning no player can foul out. Fouls are only registered as team fouls.
  • Each team gets two timeouts – a 60-second and a 30-second – per game. 
  • Substitutions are made on dead balls and during timeouts.

FIBA Rules

As the rest of the world’s premier 3×3 league, the FIBA World Tour (and the FIBA World Cup) differs slightly from the Big3. Even though the Big3 gained most of its regulatory inspiration from them.

  • The shot clock is only 12 seconds compared to the Big3’s 14-second clock.
  • Their scoring is 1-point for field goals and 2-points for three-pointers. Teams get 1 free throw when getting fouled on a 1-pointer and two foul shots when fouled on a 2-pointer.
  • The game time is one 10 minute game or score to 21.

Final Thoughts

3×3 is a bit more complex with its rulebooks, but these rules make up the gist of it! No matter what type of rules you follow, though, 3×3 basketball makes for a fun game. 

The leagues that play 3×3 basketball have created ample followings amongst fans. These exciting rules and variations of the game of basketball are a big part of the intrigue. 

The basketball played in 3×3 and 5×5 have a lot of similarities. The differences, however, are what make each league unique.

Have you had fun playing 3×3 basketball in the past? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below!