From becoming the L.A. Raiders’ most famous celebrity historian to allegedly notching a triple-double while messing around, Ice Cube has never hidden his obsessions with sports. For most of his career, he was content to let his fandom be just that. But then he watched Kobe Bryant’s swansong with the L.A. Lakers in April of 2016, in which the outgoing star scored 60 points to close out his career, and had a revelation: If a player on the cusp of retirement was still capable of a performance like that, how many other NBA stars had retired long before their skills had abandoned them?
From there, Cube began to develop his boldest new venture since he first dipped his toes into film production. Kicking off later this month, Cube’s Big 3 basketball league will hope to find an audience for professional half-court three-on-three basketball, pitting a roster of still-got-it former pros against each other in a touring, televised tournament.
“It came to me thinking as a fan, at first,” Cube says. “What would I pay for, what would I go see? If the greats came to the Staples Center to play, would I pay my money to go see it? Hell yeah.”
Cube quickly recruited his manager Jeff Kwatinetz as a co-creator, and from there, “the idea started to snowball.” The two brought on former Miami Heat star and NBA Players Assn. deputy director Roger Mason Jr. as commissioner (“he helped let the players know that this wasn’t just a bunch of entertainment guys trying to get into sports”) and former Raiders chief executive Amy Trask as CEO (“that was a no-brainer, she’s been a godsend to make this thing a reality”). The league was announced last January, and Fox Sports picked up TV rights in March.
The league will essentially take its inspiration from standard pick-up game rules, with a few additional wrinkles. Eight teams will play one another in quadruple-headers once a week for 10 weeks, with the first team to 40 points the winner. For its inaugural season, the league already boasts a number of recognizable stars, including Rashard Lewis, Chauncey Billups, Jason Williams and Charles Oakley.
No doubt the league’s biggest coup, however, was the recruitment of Allen Iverson. An 11-time All-Star, Iverson often struggled with injuries and chafed at NBA protocol, and Cube hopes to avoid similar problems in his venture, keeping the schedules forgiving and the institutional oversight light.
“We spent months and months thinking about rules and things we could do to make it a player-friendly league and take some of the [league] control away that these players have been accustomed to in the NBA,” Cube says. “When you’re 22, 23, you can go for that s–t. But when you’re 38, 40, you don’t want somebody telling you where to be and how to act all the damn time.”
Perhaps the most radical departure from the NBA’s rules is the addition of a four-point shot, located beyond the three-point line. One can imagine purists blanching at the idea, though Cube insists: “Nah, they love it. I mean, some guys know it’s out of their range. But guys have been hitting about 25% of them, so it’s a viable option.”
Theoretically, the appeal of Big 3 seems obvious. The American appetite for sports is nigh bottomless, and other sports-mad countries have seen success establishing similar non-standard pro leagues. In Brazil, for example, indoor and beach soccer leagues thrive alongside the traditional 11-on-11 matches.
Nonetheless, starting a pro sports league from scratch isn’t the easiest task, and Cube claims he’s prepared to allow Big 3 the space to catch on.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of momentum this year when people realize how good [the product] is, but we’re like any new startup business, and I think by the third year we should be in a great, great place, rolling downhill.”