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.

Amar’e Stoudemire latest big name to sign up for Big3 second season

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Last summer when I wrote about the inaugural season of the Big3, the consensus of players and the league management was that if they proved this thing was real, the second season would see bigger names come on board. Build it and they will come.

“In a lot of ways, it was definitely a ‘show me’ year,” Ice Cube told NBC Sports last summer. “Some people actually told us they would wait to see how we did this year before they would want to be a part of it. We knew trying to introduce something this new would have people kind of taking a wait-and-see approach.”

Now big names are jumping in, and the latest is former Sun and Knick Amar’e Stoudemire, who will be the three-way co-captain of Tri-State alongside Jermaine O’Neal and Nate Robinson, the league announced Wednesday.

Robinson is one of the other big names to jump in, along with Baron Davis, Ron Artest, Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis, Carlos Boozer and Drew Gooden. Even Greg Oden is going to make a run at it.

The Big3 is a barnstorming tour hitting one city a week with former NBA players going 3-on-3 in half-court. The refs let the game get more physical than the NBA, there are some gimmicks (the four-point shot spot) but the product was good. With an off-season to refine it and the broadcast, it should come back as an entertaining package. It’s a good fix for hoops junkies in the off-season, and Stoudemire and the star power just add to that.

Former No. 1 pick Greg Oden to attempt to play in Big3

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former No. 1 NBA draft pick Greg Oden will attempt a comeback this summer in the Big3.

The 3-on-3 league says Monday that Oden will be part of this year’s draft pool and take part in the draft combine.

Oden was picked first in 2007 by Portland, which selected him over Kevin Durant. But the 7-footer battled injuries throughout his career and played in just 105 games, averaging 8.0 points. His last NBA season was in 2013-14 with Miami.

The league of former NBA players co-founded by entertainer Ice Cube completed its first season last year. The players who were not on the championship team or are captains or co-captains of teams in the eight-team league will be part of the draft pool.

Ron Artest to join Big3 next summer, Allen Iverson to return

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Big3 co-founder Ice Cube knew it was going to take a year or two to get bigger names to play on his summer circuit.

“In a lot of ways, (last season) was definitely a ‘show me’ year,” Ice Cube told NBC Sports. “Some (players) actually told us they would wait to see how we did this year before they would want to be a part of it. We knew trying to introduce something this new would have people kind of taking a wait-and-see approach.”

Cube seems to be prescient — players are coming.

Metta World Peace will play next season — under his old name Ron Artest — the league announced Monday, as the co-captain of Stephen Jackson’s Killer 3’s. This NBA season World Peace is working as a player development coach for the Lakers’ G-League team.

Also, Allen Iverson will return for his second season as a Big3 coach and possibly spot player.

A lot of people checked out the Big3 in person and on Fox Sports 1 last season, but as much out of curiosity as anything. Like the NBA, the Big3 needs star power to sell, and the ownership of the league understands that. They are on the recruiting trail, and former players of the league expect it to work.

“People were trying to see if this was a joke or how serious it is, but now the retired players are seeing this game and they’re excited about what is taking place,” 11-year NBA veteran Mike James said last season. “So from this year to next year, you’re going to see more familiar names playing in this league, you’ll see more ex-superstars that played the game. And then you’ve got guys on their last leg in the NBA, they got something to look forward to.”

That’s what Ice Cube and the backers of the Big3 are counting on.

 

 

Big3 countersues Champions League, claims defamation

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Ice Cube’s Big3 had a promising rookie season and looked like a league that could have staying power. It even found one of its guys with an NBA contract.

The Champions League never got off the ground this summer.

The founders of the Champions League sued Cube and the Big3 for $250 million claiming they stole ideas and players. Did anyone think Cube and the Big3 would not come back hard at that? They did last week with a countersuit claiming defamation. TMZ has the details.

In docs, filed by Mark Geragos, BIG3 says the Champions League posted a statement on its website that was a bald-faced lie. The CL said, “The issue is that Big3 violated the agreement that players would be able to play in both leagues even though all the players had prior agreements with the Champions League.”

BIG3 says there was NEVER any agreement between the 2 leagues and no BIG3 player was barred from honoring commitments to the Champions League. BIG3 goes as far as saying that 3 players who DID have a deal with CL were specifically allowed to play for Champions.

What’s more … BIG3 says the head of the Champions League is “a serial con-artist, fraudster and ponzi-schemer” who blames his failures on others.

Well, that’s direct. Not pulling their punches, are they?

The onus falls on the Champions League to prove its allegations, and that will be challenging. More than likely this all gets tossed at some point.

What I expect will happen is we will see next summer is a bigger and better Big3 with a few more big names attached. This case will be long forgotten.