Hobnobbing with Ice Cube or How I Learned to Love the Big 3

“It’s not about your name.  It’s about your game.”

Ice Cube, Founder, Big 3

I’ve become fascinated with the way things begin.

A first kiss.  The opening sentence of an engaging blog post.  The creation of a new craft cocktail, the latest fashion trend, or how sports leagues first make their mark on our collective psyche.

Quite often throughout history, these things come about by accident.  The Moscow Mule, a simple enough drink consisting of vodka, lime and ginger beer traditionally served in a copper mug came into popularity because a bar owner had a whole bunch of copper mugs and ginger beer laying around, so he put them all together and voila, or so the story goes.

Abner Doubleday “invented” baseball.  James Naismith invented basketball by chucking a round ball into a peach crate.  That is what legend would have us believe.

But as we become so set in our ways, as sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, PGA, etc. become part of our seasonal calendar, how do other sporting events or leagues compete for our attention when we have increasingly little to give?

The movie Baseketball is a parody of a new sport becoming popular.  LIV recently challenged the PGA’s popularity, but the tension, monies thrown around and contracts signed became more of a distraction than an attraction.  Countless football leagues (USFL, XFL, Arena Football, etc.) have attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to hijack even a portion of the viewership that the NFL commands.  After all, as Albert Brooks tells Will Smith in Concussion, the NFL is a sports league that owns a day of the week that was once owned by the church.

Despite what the television ratings will tell you, the NBA is growing in popularity.  Otherwise, major corporations wouldn’t be sinking money into it hand over fist, the salary cap wouldn’t be growing exponentially, and streaming services wouldn’t be bidding billions of dollars to pay for its product.

So how does one compete with the NBA?  Or does one?

There is a rival basketball league.  Scratch that.  Perhaps rival is the wrong word.  The NBA after all is only a showcase of a particular brand of basketball.  It’s not the only way the game is played.  People play basketball all hours of the day all around the globe, from gymnasiums to blacktops, from playgrounds to playpens.  Millions of people play competitive basketball.  The NBA merely touts itself as the best basketball on the planet, which it probably is.

What my friends and I saw on Saturday wasn’t the best basketball on the planet.  But it was without question, competitive, engaging, physical, unique, and featured some of the most famous basketball names ever, alongside many you’ve never heard before.

You guys know Ice Cube, right?  He’s another human being that fascinates me.  Going from creating some of the greatest hip-hop lyrics of all time, to writing one of the seminal screenplays of the 1990s, to starring in several iconic films in both comedic and dramatic roles, Ice Cube has rarely strayed from his righteous path, and he is not done making his mark.  Not by a long shot.

His latest venture is the Big 3.  Founded in 2017, the Big 3 is a traveling seasonal basketball league comprised of international players, retired NBA stars and former college standouts competing in a way that’s brand new, yet all too familiar to anyone who’s played the game.

Major League Baseball used to have camps where fans could pay a fee and play alongside their retired boyhood idols.  That’s not quite what Big 3 is like, however, it is a fun, affordable way to see once familiar faces still proving they got game.

I had a lot of questions before seeing the Big 3 as it hit Tampa’s Yuengling Center.  I knew multiple teams played 3-on-3 but wasn’t quite sure how it worked.  I can assure you it’s far more organized than you think and is riveting to watch.  The lot of us that went, courtesy of the best partner ever who thoughtfully catered to our basketball nerdiness, were treated to a near all-day affair, six hours of entertaining basketball, far cheaper and more accessible than any NBA game.

This season, the barnstorming Big Three travels to Baltimore, Newark, Anaheim, Portland, Cincinnati, San Antonio, Nashville and Boston after playing its first two weeks in Los Angeles and Tampa.   The league consists of twelve teams, which means if you attend you will see six basketball games.  Teams are comprised of five players and one pretty darn famous coach.  The coaches we saw on Saturday were named Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Michael Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Rick Mahorn, Gary Payton, Charles Oakley, Nancy Leiberman, Rashard Lewis, George Gervin, Nick Young and Stephen Jackson.  Perhaps you’ve heard of them.  You should because half of this list is in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

We saw former NBA stars like Joe Johnson, Michael Beasley and Jason Richardson, role players like Leandro Barbosa, Mario Chalmers and Corey Brewer and guys that didn’t make as much of a splash like Isaiah Briscoe and Donte Greene but who are doing just fine in the Big 3.  It’s a different game with a different skill set, as the league founder proudly points out.

It is a sports league that, while featuring former NBA players, has been careful to keep its distance from the Association.  While celebrating coaches like Dr. J, George Gervin, and Rick Barry, it is no coincidence that those men first made their splashes in another rival NBA league: the American Basketball Association.

The Big Three is not the ABA either.  It is a three-on-three, halfcourt league where the first team to score fifty points wins.  The games are timed, an hour long, but no game we watched went that long.  Halftime of each game starts when the first team reaches twenty-five points.  Two pointers count for two, three pointers count for three.  There is a four-point shot from three circles well behind the arc.  The shot is rarely used, at least it wasn’t on Saturday, but we did see one player, the Triplets’ Jeremy Pargo self-perform a heat check by hitting consecutive four-pointers.  Like the ABA’s creation of the three-point shot, Pargo’s four-pointers got the crowd out of their seats.  It added a new, exciting element to the game.

The basketball we watched was physical and the defense we saw was, dare I say, far more consistent than what that other league treats us to.  There were fouls, hard ones.  The officiating was solid, but the stripes let them play.  There was no incessant clock stoppage that brought the game to a halt as in NBA games.  Coaches can challenge a call or “Bring the Fire” once per game.  Once they did so, fire shot out from upper parts of the arena.  What’s basketball without some pyrotechnics? 

While this ploy might sound kitschy, we began to see the strategy involved in these challenges.  Fouls weren’t reviewed but rather, after the challenge, the fouled player would attempt to score one-on-one against the player that fouled him.  If he made the shot, it counted.  If not, no basket.  That simple.  There was a fourteen second shot clock to keep things moving.  To further keep a steady pace, once fouled, players go to the line to shoot one free throw that counts for two points (“Shooting one for two”) and zero if he misses.  Teams must win by two.  A shot attempt must hit the rim, or the defending rebounders can go straight back up with the ball. In other words, it’s much like half-court hoops at your local YMCA, and far more relatable to your average, aging fan, just played with significantly larger men, most of whom have played high-level professional basketball.

One game is played at a time with music in the foreground, plenty of trash-talking and an emcee who does commentary as well. There were cheerleaders and high-flying acrobatic dunkers during game breaks.  For an ardent basketball nerd such as myself, it was hard to turn away from and again, fascinating to see how they came up with these rules, as if concocted in a lab, varying only slightly from what we’re used to but still holding true to the game. 

The entire time, courtside, the founder, watched every minute intently, congratulating participants after each game.  He’s either a hard ass of a boss, a shrewd basketball fan or some combination of the two.  He is, after all, the mastermind behind the operation and the face of the league.

The entire event was interactive, far more so than NBA games.  Kids were invited onto the court midway through the event to shoot lay-ups.  Good luck seeing that at an NBA game.  Select fans even got to test their skills from the four-point shot against former college and NBA great Mike Bibby.

Concession lines were packed with fans of all ages, kids who probably didn’t know that Jason Richardson had won a slam dunk contest or that Corey Brewer won a national championship at Florida, until they were told so by the older fans who brought them there.

Overall, the five of us who went couldn’t stop talking about the event for hours afterwards, how the genius of Ice Cube never ceases to amaze, how his creation inadvertently or not raises a discussion about what’s right with his league and what might be wrong with the NBA, i.e., load management, player unavailability, officiating, unimaginable salaries that go hand in hand with escalating ticket prices.

It was a fabulous day for basketball fans and a great event to teach the next generation about the sport while not breaking the bank or spending a week’s pay for a player you might not get to see.

Ice Cube has done it yet again, this time with a little help from his friends.  I have a feeling this is only the beginning.

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2 Replies to “Hobnobbing with Ice Cube or How I Learned to Love the Big 3”

  1. I can genuinely say that I was beyond impressed and I admittedly underestimated how entertaining this Big 3 was going to be. Those ~6 hours went by faster than expected and I can say wholeheartedly that I was entertained the whole time. I also can say that as a parent, the fact this whole day event was affordable makes my heart happy. I loved seeing all of the fans, of all ages, loving every minute. The games were a blast and seeing Lisa Leslie’s team absolutely dominate was thrilling but the company attending with me made it even better. Thank you, SC for being my basketball date and our 3 Mouseketeer’s that came along with us.

  2. I was just wondering if you can clarify the reason why Ice Cube was in Tampa. I heard that someone wanted to attend his performance in Tampa this past Friday night, and then leave before Red Hot Chili Peppers came on stage. Was Ice Cube the opening act for RHCP, and that’s the reason why he was in Tampa this past Saturday? How did Ice Cube have time to get to performance in Fort Lauderdale area? Are you saying that you went to see Ice Cube, both at amphitheater this past Friday and at basketball arena?

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