Last year there was more than a little cynicism directed at the BIG3. The idea of retired or lower-level basketball players playing three-on-three games in a different city every week and for a mere fraction of the price of an NBA game seems a little foolproof in hindsight, though. Critics and bloggers predicted pointless pickup games with little reason for serious basketball fans to pay attention. However, rapper and BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube is used to adapting to changing circumstances.
Even with the loss of key figures like former coach Allen Iverson, as well as former commissioner Roger Mason Jr., BIG3’s second season has been even more successful than its first. Turns out, people enjoy watching basketball in the summer. With events that have a day-party atmosphere and are already known for attracting all manner of celebrity spectators, it would be a safe bet to think that BIG3 is only getting started.
“You never know after your first season if you’re a one-trick pony,” Cube’s longtime business partner and BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz says. “We believe in the credibility of the sport and the league … The game of three-on-three is its own game and it’s really evolved.”
Last year, Dallas got a firsthand look at this leaner variation of basketball and is one of only two cities to which the BIG3 has chosen to return for the Season 2 playoffs. The final four games before the championship game in Brooklyn will be Aug. 17 at the American Airlines Center. The games will also be streamed live on Facebook and aired at 8 p.m. on Fox. Cube says the playoff games will be even more hotly contested than the regular-season games, which brings us back to what exactly makes BIG3 so intriguing.
“In the NBA guys are specialists, they play their role,” Cube says. “In the BIG3 you have to be an all-around great basketball player. You have to pull out all your skills. You can’t just expect to be a specialist and expect to be successful.”
From a team perspective, the fewer players and half-court setup completely change the nature of the game. BIG3 commissioner, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, says the biggest change to the game is freedom. Despite having less court space, players are encouraged to find more angles from which to score. The addition of three four-point scoring zones set 40 feet from the basket also rewards players going for more clutch shots.
This style requires a different skill set from players in general and has given new shine to players who have either retired from their NBA careers or simply couldn’t maintain a spot on an NBA roster or ended up being relegated to foreign or developmental leagues. Still, more than 90 former NBA players tried out for this second season of BIG3 basketball.
They include players like Dallas’ own Andre Emmett, who saw success in the NBA D League after being bounced around from team to team in his early career. He now plays in the Korean Basketball League and is in the running to be this season’s BIG3 MVP after being the second overall draft pick this season. He says the league has been the most physical he’s ever played in, which is luckily right up his alley.
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“Andre Emmet has been an incredible surprise for the BIG3; this guy’s got real game,” Drexler says. “He’s a good one-on-one player, good defender, he’s strong, he's physical and everything a BIG3 player should be, very competitive.”
BIG3 isn’t looking to replace traditional basketball events; it’s not even really looking to compete against the NBA. Instead it seems the ultimate goal for BIG3 is to provide more opportunities for enthusiasts, players, coaches and families to enjoy a competitive and professional sporting event in every aspect. While the game comes with increased physicality on the court, off the court BIG3 looks to create a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere for players and spectators alike.
“This is awesome man, it’s awesome in a lot of different ways,” Emmett says. “I’m playing ball in front of my friends and my family, I’m playing ball for all the fans I’ve been blessed to accumulate since high school and college. I’m on TV every week; I’m doing things in different communities in the United States … I’m with Ice Cube, baby. Damn.”