In a figurative sense, Ice Cube is squaring up to take a 30-foot jumper.
That’s what the BIG3 — a brand-new 3-on-3 professional basketball league made up of former NBA players and co-founded by the rapper/Hollywood star — represents: a bit of a long shot, a bit of a risk, a bit of a nail-biter.
But in the hands of guys like Ice Cube, and bolstered by a formidable foundation that’s been laid in just six months (along with some big-name talent on the league’s rolls), it ought to be exciting to see whether he and his team can nail it.
In fact, several thousand basketball fans already have an inkling: On Sunday night, those inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., became the first to experience BIG3, during season-opening play for the league’s eight teams. The next big test is Monday night’s tape-delayed coverage of the action, which begins at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Go. Next Sunday, the 10-week tour stops at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
“I think when people see Brooklyn, I won’t have to run around trying to explain the concept,” Cube said in a phone interview with the Observer last week. “I just think it’s all gonna hit people and they gonna say, ‘Damn, how did we live without this?’ “
It’s pretty simple. Each week, the eight teams are divided into four matchups. Games of 3-on-3 are played to 60 points, with a break for halftime as soon as the first team hits 30. Only half the court is used, with players required to clear the ball out to the 3-point line upon snagging defensive rebounds. The shot clock runs down after just 14 seconds.
Oh, and speaking of 30-foot jumpers: Among the other rules tweaks designed to boost the excitement level, there are three circles beyond the 3-point line from which players can take shots worth 4 points.
An even bigger draw — other than Ice Cube, who will indeed be in town next weekend for the games — will be the cast of characters involved, including Julius Erving (who coaches the Tri-State team); former University of North Carolina star Rashad McCants (who the Trilogy team selected No. 1 in the BIG3 draft, held in April); and former All-Star Charles Oakley (a player/coach for the Killer 3s; at 53, he’s the oldest player in the league by five years).
And the greatest get of all has to be charismatic NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, who serves as captain and player/coach of 3’s Company, and who trained in Charlotte for this summer season under the eye of his high school coach, Mike Bailey.
Here are eight other things you should know about the BIG3 before it hits Charlotte next weekend:
1. Cube had fantasized about a 3-on-3 basketball league for years, but didn’t get serious until he watched Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant light up the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016. “When I saw Kobe score 60 points in his last game, I thought: If somebody wanted to see that guy play basketball again, there’s nowhere really for him to be for you to see that. And why not? So I talked to (longtime manager/partner) Jeff (Kwatinetz) about it, and that’s how it started to really go.” The league, co-founded by Kwatinetz, was officially launched five months ago, with former NBA Players Association executive director Roger Mason Jr. as president and commissioner, and ex-Raiders CEO Amy Trask as BIG3’s CEO.
“We had a dream team of people who could do it,” Cube said. “If we waited a year, we felt like somebody would have gotten the jump on us. We thought, ‘If somebody catches wind of our (idea), they could create this league without us’ — and we just weren’t gonna let that happen.” It became an even savvier move than expected: Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee approved the addition of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to the 2020 Summer Olympics.
2. BIG3 players must be at least 30 years old, and “they’ve gotta have had more than a cup of coffee in the NBA,” Cube said. (In fact, every single current BIG3 player has NBA experience.) But this is no retirement league. “We got some players that might not be that well-known that, on the 3-on-3 level, they might be the man. So we still think we got room to make stars and not just take stars. We think some guys are gonna shine who really might have not been able to make a name for themselves in the NBA, but when people see their 3-on-3 game, it could possibly get ‘em back to the NBA.”
3. Cube and Mason agreed that the rule they’re most excited about is the 4-point shot. “From a basketball standpoint, it really opens up the floor,” said Mason, who played for eight NBA teams from 2002 to 2014. “It really allows guys to have more space to move and to show their skills. And let’s face it, we’re in an era where players’ skill levels are constantly increasing and range is constantly being challenged. The Steph Currys of the world have shown us that range can be unlimited. So a 4-point shot is something that I think will be a game-changer.” (For his part, Iverson said, chuckling: “That’s a little bit out of my range. If I do it, it’s gonna be a runner, ‘cause every one’ll be an airball if not.”)
4. Mason and Cube also agreed about the rule they’re second-most excited about: Shooting fouls will result in free throws attempted from the traditional line for 2s, from the top of the 3-point line for 3s, and from the top 4-point circle for 4s. In each case, it’s one shot for all the points. “We feel like that’s innovative, it’s faster, it’s funner, and it’s fairer, to be honest, ‘cause if a guy takes one shot for three and he gets fouled, why does he have to make three shots to get those points? … If you hit it, you get it; if not, we keep playing.”
5. Each team will play eight regular-season games, in eight different cities, over eight Mondays. The playoffs are Aug. 20 in Seattle, and the championship finals are set for Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. Why did BIG3 pick Charlotte as one of the tour stops? “We feel like North Carolina loves basketball,” Cube said. “It’s a basketball town — really a basketball state — so we just felt like it was a great place to go. If we do well there, we’ll be back (next year). If not … I don’t know.”
6. Expect games to last 35-40 minutes. When packaged for television, all four of the previous day’s games will be shown in their entirety between 8 and 11 p.m. Mondays.
7. Expect players to bring their “A” games. For one, there’s an incentive to win: BIG3 players each pocket $100,000 for landing on one of the eight five-man squads, but they also will share in the league’s revenue, with bonuses based on their team’s record. On top of the financial incentives, something intangible is at stake. “It’s a lot of pride and legacy on the line,” Cube said. “Guys have made a name for themselves, and they don’t wanna give that up in one afternoon. So you dudes are gonna be chippy. … (In exhibition play) we had to separate dudes a couple times, ‘cause it’s raw emotion.” Added Iverson: “Yeah, I don’t know how much I’m gonna be going in that lane, ‘cause these guys out here are playin’ real physical.”
8. Cube hopes that guys like Iverson — and a proven track record of success, a strong fan base, etc. — will help make BIG3 the go-to home for marquee players. “It’s only Year One. Just think when we have Paul Pierce looking at us, and KG (Kevin Garnett), and Tim Duncan, and Ray Allen, and Steph Curry, and LeBron James, and D (Dwyane) Wade. When you have them starting to look at our league as a viable option one day, there’s no telling where this can go.” As for Kobe? “If his competitive juices start flowing,” Cube said, “we’ll get him.”