LAS VEGAS — Before he was a rapper, an actor, a genre creator, a screenwriter and simply an icon, Ice Cube was a sports fan, the Los Angeles Lakers and Raiders, mostly.
So maybe it all makes sense that a star of this caliber, a businessman of this success, would up and help found a wing-and-a-prayer, national barnstorming 3-on-3 basketball league. Why try to buy an ownership stake in the NBA when you can control an entire league?
The Big3’s championship game takes place Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and will broadcast live on Fox at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Three-on-three basketball? Yes, featuring retired NBA players (Kenyon Martin, Rashad Lewis, Mike Bibby and so on) playing half court and with some added twists, such as a 4-point circle.
“Love it,” Cube said Thursday, sitting in a MGM boardroom ahead of the title game, of the 4-point play. “The fans love it. Anytime there is an attempt, you can hear the gasp from the audience. And when it hits everyone is excited. You shoot from that far out, 30 feet, you should get four points.”
The league has been a success so far, with decent crowds turning out on various tour stops and a good TV deal with Fox Sports. The title game marks just the 10th event in league history, so there is plenty of room to grow and ways to improve, Cube notes. Overall, though, not bad. It’s been a basketball oasis during the drought of the summer.
Not that it’s been simple. There are constant challenges. At one point this summer, Cube even had to oversee the one-game suspension of Allen Iverson after AI failed to show for a game.
“It was actually an easy decision because it was Big 3 policy, although I wish I didn’t have to make it because I love Allen Iverson,” Cube said. “Maybe I’ll buy him a watch as a gift after the season.”
That’s confirmation that the Big3 actually has policies, although it’s not exactly the authoritarian No Fun League or anything like that. This isn’t Roger Goodell here. Trash talk is encouraged in a sport born on the playgrounds.
“If you’re feeling emotional, you can let that go,” Cube said.
So no technical fouls for taunting?
“Not in the Big3,” he said.
He said the whole concept was an attempt at creating something fun, affordable and nostalgic. He’s promising a second season next summer and, if anything, it should be an easier sell to the public. If momentum grows, the Big3 is here to stay, in part because it isn’t trying to be too big, or challenge the NBA, but just find a niche.
“At a lot of places, you look in the stands and see the whole family,” Cube said. “It’s an affordable ticket. A lot of those fans had never been in those arenas. They had NBA teams but they couldn’t afford the ticket so it was the first time as a family stepping into these arenas.”
Maybe the best part, though, has been being around sports. There’s an old saying that ballers all want to be rappers and rappers all want to be ballers, and Cube doesn’t deny it.
He’s turned into Adam Silver but if he could switch careers with one athlete, who would he chose?
“Who wouldn’t want to be Kobe Bryant?” Cube said. “As a basketball player, playing in Los Angeles, one organization for 20 years, five championships, so many All-Star games.”
Basketball is just one pastime. Cube is a Raiders fan.
“I’m actually the president of Raider Nation,” he said.
We didn’t know that.
“I’m surprised it wasn’t on my limo,” he said.
It should be. So how does a lifelong Raider fan, dating back to the L.A. Raiders and through the Oakland Raiders, feel about the franchise moving here in a few years, to become the Las Vegas Raiders in a state-of-the-art facility just off the Strip?
“I’m excited,” Cube said. “They deserve a new stadium. The Raiders have been playing in a penitentiary in Oakland for the longest time. So it’s good they are out of that Folsom, what’s it called, San Quentin? Corcoran?”
Many believe the Raiders are still the most popular team in Los Angeles, but now that the city has two teams, the Rams and the Chargers, who will L.A. fans support?
“I think we’ll still have the large majority of Raider fans in L.A.,” Cube said. “Some of them will kind of mosey over to the Rams. None of them are going for the Chargers. I don’t know what the hell is going on there.
“‘Ya’ll want two teams here? We’ll throw in the Chargers for cheap.'”
Yeah, they are temporarily playing in a soccer stadium.
“And they can’t fill that up. It’s terrible.”
Just your average rap icon, movie star, comedic screenwriter talking sports and promoting his 3-on-3 league.
If the title game goes off without a hitch, you could say today was a good day.