Kareem Maddox3x3 BasketballNews

Why 3x3 Basketball Player Kareem Maddox Has Been Lying To Himself

by Lisa Costantini

Kareem Maddox looking on at the FIBA 3x3 Men's World Cup on May 21, 2023 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by USA Basketball)

Three-on-three basketball player Kareem Maddox had been lying to himself.

Ever since 2017, when 3x3 basketball was announced that it would be an Olympic sport, the 34-year-old has told himself he’s an Olympian.

Playing in the Olympics was a goal for so long that Maddox said, “at some level, I had to believe it, even if it wasn’t true.”

Now having qualified for the Olympics Paris 2024, the pro baller is excited to make his dream a reality this summer.

This will be the first time Team USA’s 3x3 men’s national team — consisting of former NBA player Jimmer Fredette, Dylan Travis and Canyon Barry — will compete in a Games since the sport debuted at the Olympics Tokyo 2020.

Maddox was a part of the U.S. men’s team that failed to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Despite that heartbreak, he knew his goal was in the cards. “That’s easy to say now,” he laughed. “But there were moments where I was like, this is hard.”

His career trajectory hasn’t always followed a straight path, sometimes even diverging from the realm of sports. At times he would question if he was meant to follow in the footsteps of his namesake, Los Angeles Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

After attending Princeton University — where he played basketball for four years — Maddox spent two seasons playing in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. He made his way back to the States where he landed a job as a host and producer for NPR (National Public Radio). But after three years, he opted to quit to train for Tokyo in pursuit of his Olympic dream.

Looking back, he wishes his younger self knew it would all be worth it one day. But not for the reasons he thought it would.

“Everything I’ve had to do daily to make this happen is the real reward,” he shared. “The lifestyle changes that will last longer than August, the value of training and being intentional with how you train, goal setting, things like that. The Olympics are going to be great. I’m excited for it. But that’s only a small part of the rewarding thing about playing this sport.”

Since its inclusion as an Olympic sport, 3x3 basketball has experienced a surge in popularity.

“Seeing the growth of the sport has been awesome. You see it professionalizing a little bit more every year,” Maddox said. Gone are the days of playing at local parks just to get in a few shots before a tournament. Now, he said “there is an officiality to it. It’s raised the level, which is great.” 

(L-R) Canyon Barry, Kareem Maddox, Jimmer Fredette and Dylan Travis pose for a photo after winning the gold-medal game at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 23, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

When he’s not training, he works part-time for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, where he’s witnessed professional basketball first-hand.

As their self-described “manager of special projects,” Maddox was brought in two years ago by Tim Connolly, president of operations. The two met in 2008 when Connolly’s younger brother Dan was the director of basketball operations at Princeton where Maddox was studying English lit.

The skills Maddox developed playing NCAA ball are something he still uses to this day.

“Our coach was big on the value of chemistry,” Maddox said. He remembers the team was still climbing the ranks when he started as a freshman, but by his last year, they were one of the best teams records-wise in the school’s history. “It was because we had a team that stuck together and fought for each other.”

It’s a philosophy he said his current team is trying to emulate. 

“I think there’s a level of buy-in that has to be had, right? We all came from different places, different walks of life, and then when we got there, we were like okay, we’re all best friends now until it became true,” he said. “You fake it ‘til you make it. Now there’s a genuine connection.”

The foursome even has a collective good luck charm that they got before qualifying for Paris.

“We have this little gem — we got it from a crystal store in Amsterdam — near where Dylan and I were doing laundry one day,” Maddox explained about the stone that now travels with them. “Any time anyone would mention the Olympics we’d say touch the rock. I’d go get it out of my bag and everyone had to touch the rock because we weren’t going to jinx this.”

Even though they’ve officially qualified, Maddox doesn’t think it will feel real until they’ve stepped foot in France. But he’s trying not to get ahead of himself.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future because why miss the moment? That’s something I’ve done a lot. I’m always looking for what’s next,” Maddox said. “I always have a backup plan and now this time I can be like I don’t need a backup plan — I just need to be the best I can be for July.”

But some habits die hard. Maddox continued to let his mind wander. “I’m feeling better than ever and healthier than ever, so there might still be some basketball to be played,” he wondered. “I’m from LA, so 2028? I’ll be 38. It seems like a long shot but almost like a fun little challenge. Can I make it happen? We’ll see.”

Lisa Costantini has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than a decade, including for the International Olympic Committee. She is a freelance writer who has contributed to TeamUSA.com since 2011.