Big3 going live, looks to make big step forward in second season

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The inaugural season of the Big3 felt a little bit like the 1970s NBA — the games were physical, player conditioning was not always up to modern standards, and the biggest games were shown on tape delay. At least with the Big3 the shorts were longer.

Then we all know what happened to the NBA in the 1980s — Magic and Bird ushered in an era of increased talent around the league, the popularity exploded, and soon the games were not only live but must-watch viewing for sports fans.

The Big3 plans to follow in those footsteps.

In its second season — a barnstorming-style tour which tips off June 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston — Big3 games will be broadcast live every Friday Nights on FS1 (or Fox), and those games will see a lot more talent on the court:

Amar’e Stoudemire. Nate Robinson. Metta World Peace/Ron Artest. Baron Davis. Carlos Boozer. Chris “Birdman” Anderson. That’s just to name a few new faces, joining returnees such as Chauncey Billups, Brian Scalabrine, Kenyon Martin and more (plus coaches including Julius Irving, Charles Oakley, and newcomer Michael Cooper).

“I think the talent level’s a lot better, I think people are going to be in shape,” Andre Owens, the No. 1 pick in the Big3 draft of Scalabrine’s Ball Hogs, told NBC Sports. “And Trilogy (last year’s champion), they got a target on their back. Every game Trilogy plays, people going to try and go after them.

“But the talent level is so much better than last year, and people are going to be in so much better shape. It’s going to be interesting.”

It was something Ice Cube — one of the league’s co-founders — predicted: A lot of good former NBA players were on the fence about his new venture, but once they saw it succeed for a season they were ready to jump in. About 100 players showed up for the Big3 tryouts this season, even though only about 19 could get drafted.

“I just can’t wait to get out there and play,” Artest told NBC Sports. “I just got back into the gym and I’m excited about it. Ice Cube was able to pay to start this thing with his successful career. I’m going to get out there live on Fox on Friday’s I’m very excited about it.”

Those new stars had better not expect deference.

“It’s not your name it’s your game — you got to have real game,” said Owens, who was top five in the league in scoring, rebounds, and assists last season. “You can’t hide it.”

That talent level and the more prominent names will bring more eyeballs to the games, more people tuning in to the production. Going live with that was something the Big3 would not have been ready for in its rookie season, admitted league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz. They were learning as they went on how to make it work, how to keep the energy up in sold-out major arenas.

“The learning curve, as with any new business, is tremendous,” Kwatinetz said. “Even though it is generally the sport of basketball, 3-on-3 really is its own game with its own strategies, and part of what we learned is the game would really evolve and be something different….

“We made a fair amount of changes after Game 1 (last season)…” Kwatinetz said, noting the first day of games too five-and-a-half-hours. “By the time we went live (on Fox Sports) for the finals, we had learned so much about camera angles and pacing, and how to stage a live event so it would look great on TV.”

The changes they made over the course of the season — such as dropping the games from first to 60 down to 50 — were often about pacing on and off the court. The idea was to keep the energy up in the arena — shorter breaks between games filled with in-house entertainment, and the lower score meant players had to keep up the energy and pace during play, making the product more entertaining.

The nonstop energy needed meant players getting back in the gym early was one theme for season two — players from last season admitted they didn’t grasp the conditioning level needed to play a competitive game of 3-on-3 to 50. It may be half-court ball, but the player movement is constant and players have to be two-way guys.

“The games were quicker, faster, quicker turnaround from offense to defense,” Kwatinetz said. “Less dead time, just things that kept the pace up.”

“It was definitely real basketball,” Owens said. “It’s a little harder than 5-on-5 in that you’ve got to be able to score and you’ve got to be able to play defense. If you can’t do all that you’re going to be exposed. And the contact and the physicality of the game was very intense, so it was definitely harder than 5-on-5.”

The physicality of the league was something the fans and players liked — the Big3 felt a lot more like 1990s era basketball than 2018. Guys were given leeway to bang on each other like the old days, or a good playground game. Players loved it.

“That’s how I play, I put my hard hat on and I’m physical,” Owens said.

The rules of the half-court league — including the much-discussed four-point shot from certain spots on the court — cater more to the mind of a 35-year-old player more than just the speed of a 22-year-old player, organizers said.

“These guys, when it comes to tactics and strategy, and understanding the skills of basketball, they are way beyond what the first or second or third year NBA player is capable of doing,” Kwatinetz said.

But for the players, much of the motivation is the same that has always driven them — pride and ego.

“(Players are) definitely better prepped because they understand that the magnitude of this is just growing,” Owens said of the second season. “You’re playing in big arenas and packed houses and ain’t nobody want to be exposed on TV and in front of friends because they know how serious it is. And you got to be in shape, like I said everything is magnified. You’ve got to be able to play, and if you can’t play you’re going to get exposed.”

The Big3 is making strides on other fronts. They have a new sponsorship deal with Adidas. They will be doing a Young3 event every Thursday in whatever city they are in, reaching out to youth in the area.

Last year, the Big3 found a market — basketball fans would pay for a little nostalgia as long as the product was still good.

Now they are ready to find out just how big that market really is.

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win “Kobe’s with me every day”

Devin Booker Kobe
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?