It was back on January 11th—just seven short months ago—that a new basketball league was introduced. Since that initial Big 3 press conference in NYC, league founders Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz signed players, held a draft, found a TV broadcast partner (Fox) and played a full season, which will be capped off with Saturday’s final matchups in Las Vegas. In the championship game, which will be televised live, Kenyon Martin’s undefeated Trilogy squad will face off against MVP Rashard Lewis’s 3 Headed Monsters.
Like most new sports leagues, the Big 3 had some stumbles in its first year. The Sunday four-game slates were televised the following night, would-be fan favorite Jason “White Chocolate” Williams suffered a season-ending injury in his very first game, and Allen Iverson—who was already more coach than player—skipped the Dallas event entirely. He was suspended for the following Sunday’s games.
But all in all, the experiment was a success. Arenas sold out, serious injuries were the exception rather than the rule, and fans got to see Mike Bibby drop dimes, DeShawn Stevenson hit threes—and 51-year-old Charles Oakley backhand Al Harrington. Before the final weekend games kick off, we talked to Cube about the first season’s ups and downs, why there weren’t more four-point shots, and—oh yeah—that other sporting event happening in Las Vegas on Saturday.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Did you have a favorite moment from this season?
I mean, I guess Brooklyn. Just seeing it all come together. Even though we still had a couple wrinkles, that was it—I could really exhale a little bit, just look at how we could make it a better experience for the fans, the players, the people watching on TV. We celebrated getting there, because pulling that off in about six months, from the time we launched...and we feel like you’re not real until you have that press conference and tell the world that you’re here and that we’re gonna be playing basketball in June. It’s a lot of work to get to that and most people wouldn’t be able to do it in the time we were able to do it. It was an extraordinary feat.
What was the biggest thing you took away from this season?
You know, observing the whole season, figuring out how we could get better. And that’s, like, I think we gotta get better, I think our players gotta get better—we caught ‘em off guard this year. [Laughs] Next year they should be ready. We have a resume now, pretty much, so other players who were kind of waiting on the sidelines, hopefully they’ll see this is cool and they’ll want to be a part of the Big 3.
Rashard Lewis was named MVP by his peers—what can you say about his play this season?
Incredible. In the [NBA], to be honest, I thought Rashard was pretty much just a catch-and-shoot kind of guy. I didn’t know he had so many skills on the block, so many post moves—it’s been pretty incredible to watch him because he’s a good guy. And to see a guy who in the league he had to kind of play his role, in the NBA, but in our league he was able to show he’s an MVP. So it was pretty cool. Pretty incredible.
Did anyone else really surprise you this year, by the way they played?
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He’s been amazing, 48 years old, being able to still move and show skills like that. He’s been phenomenal. That’s one guy that’s been amazing. Ricky Davis—you know, just seeing guys that still have it, especially in the three-on-three format. That’s what’s been cool, seeing guys still able to make it happen.
Just looking at the four-point leaders—Mike Bibby hit six—did you think there would be more four-pointers this year?
Yeah, I thought it would be more intense, I thought there would be more makes. It’s not an easy shot when you’re just standing out there.
You got to take some of those with LaVar.
Yeah when you’re just standing there it’s a hard shot, let alone with a hand in your face. And these guys are not really from that era, so to speak. The four-point shooters are coming. They coming. These guys are from the three-point era, toes on the line, even being two or steps behind the three might get you benched in their era. It’s just a different caliber. But that four-point shot is always there, so it’s cool to see people take it, especially when they make it, the fans go crazy.
Trilogy is 9-0 headed into the championship game—what can we expect this weekend?
I believe just a hard-fought basketball game. These guys leave it all on the floor every play. They realize how precious every possession is, because you look up and a team get 25 on you and they’re going downhill while you’re still going uphill. So it’s really an urgency to our game. You add that, you add the 14-second clock, you add live TV where guys know more people are watching them this week—and they’re going for a championship of an inaugural season, so I’m pretty sure they want it. It’s a lot on the line, and guys are gonna give it they all, so it’s gonna be hard fought.
You got a prediction on it? It’s the undefeated team going against the team with the MVP.
I don’t actually. My job is to set the stage, and once I do that just enjoy the competition. I know it’s not gonna be easy for whoever takes it, they’re gonna have to work hard for it. That’s all I want—my hope is the game goes down to the wire, 46 to 46, and someone shoots a four to win it. That would be a beautiful outcome to me.
One of the other awards, Stephen Jackson was recognized for his trash-talking ability. As someone versed in that, what did you think about him this season?
I thought he was great. Because it wasn’t just trash talk to clown your opponent, it was passion, I want to get in the game. When you tell your coach you gonna lose if you don’t put me back in the game, that’s what you want. You want somebody who believes in theyself and is passionate about like, yo, telling the truth about how he feels. So I think that exchange right there between him and Charles Oakley probably got him the award.
What was your conversation with Allen Iverson like after he missed the games in Chicago?
I mean, I didn’t say much. It was really him just apologizing for his actions. I just did what we would do if it was anybody—Mo Evans, who missed a game, he would get suspended for the next game. For me it was an easy decision and an easy conversation. But I accepted his apology and I’m very appreciative that he’s even part of this league. I wasn’t gonna harbor on it too much anyway.
Was that one of the rougher parts of this season for you?
No, not really. Because we had a sold-out arena in Dallas, he didn’t play the game before, so I don’t think people expected him to play, I’m pretty sure they just wanted to see him. We had great games, and you know the whole Allen Iverson situation really allowed us to see whether we had a product that could withstand something like this, and we showed that we do. We showed that it’s really about the style of basketball that the Big 3 brings over anything else—star power is cool, but you could have all the stars in the world, but if they not playin' real basketball, if it’s just like a litte friend all-star pickup game, they’re not gonna watch that very long either. At some point our brand has to take over, and it has to be about the style of basketball that we allow players to play. And then from there that’s what it’s all about. The Allen Iverson incident allowed us to show that, that it’s not about who play, but it’s about how they play. That’s what it’s all about.
Have you started to think about next year, what changes you might put in?
Oh yeah. Yeah.
Anything you can talk about?
Nope. Nah. [Laughs] Because it all has to be kind of vetted, it has to make sense. A good idea sometimes is not a good idea when you really start dissecting it. We want to make sure what we’re doing is making the league better, not just making changes to make changes.
What do you think’s gonna happen in that other event in Vegas on Saturday?
I think Floyd’s gonna school the boy, pretty much, I just think he’s gonna school the dude. It’s just gonna be laughable. That to me is what’s really gonna happen.
I know you’re a big Raiders fan. Would you like to see them sign Colin Kaepernick?
Yeah, why not? We got a pretty good backup, the kid from the Bills, but why not? I think it would be great. It’d be Raider tradition. Al Davis would sign him.
Do you think he’s getting blackballed from the league?
In a way. Because I think they have an excuse, they have an excuse that ‘he’s not good enough anymore’ or ‘he doesn’t fit our system.’ So I really wish he’d have did this when he was making the Super Bowl run. Then you couldn’t really fall back on that. They’ve got an excuse.