Celebrities filling Staples Center is nothing new to Angelenos. But it’s safe to say that a three-on-three basketball game has never received star treatment quite like the BIG3 league did on Sunday afternoon.
NBA star Dwyane Wade sat courtside next to former NFL receiver Chad Ochocinco and rapper-actor Ice Cube, the league’s co-founder, while Chris Brown chopped it up with actor Jesse Williams a few seats down. To a standing ovation, Snoop Dogg took center stage at halftime to perform “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “The Next Episode.” And LaVar Ball even lost what might’ve been the first ever “Four Point Shootout,” to Cube.
In its inaugural season, Cube’s BIG3 league has crisscrossed the United States, giving fans a chance to see favorite players of the NBA’s past in some of the most famous arenas in North American sports. Sunday’s stop at Staples was the last in an eight-week regular-season schedule, to be followed by playoffs next weekend in Seattle and the championship game Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.
Though peppered with a few gimmicks, like the four-point shot, the league has serious aspirations to become a household name in the American sports conversation.
With the league comprised entirely of past-their-prime pro ballers, the games lacked the refinement and consistency NBA fans are used to. Guards would cross up defenders, only to be unable to drive past, and big men often struggled to finish in the paint, lacking the requisite lift needed to get the ball above the rim. What the game was missing in athleticism, however, it made up for with entertainment value, hard-nosed competition and nostalgia.
After all, where else in the world could you sit next to Snoop Dogg and LaVar Ball, while listening to fans trash talk 53-year-old Charles Oakley while he tried to guard Stephen Jackson?
Despite the quirks, Mike James, a former NBA journeyman playing for Julius Erving’s Tri-State squad, said that the genuine competition among players in the league makes him believe the BIG3 is here to stay. Though many players have been away from the game for years, James said the game quality has only improved as the season progressed, something that other former NBA players have taken note of.
“The basketball has gotten better as the weeks went on,” James said. “... I think that I gotta start earlier to get ready for the season but overall I think that this league is gonna be around for a long time. People are trying to see if this is a joke and how serious it is, but now the retired players are seeing this game and they’re excited about what’s taking place.”
Names like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have been rumored as potential competitors in next year’s iteration. And Ice Cube has mentioned that he is working to officially partner with the NBA at some point down the line. Until then, though, the BIG3 is likely to remain outside the mainstream sports consciousness.
But fans like Akron native Derrick Tarver still appreciate it for what it is.
“I think it’s fun. It’s something that has good energy. To basketball fans, it brings all those things that everyone was talking about. The energy, excitement, something cool in the summertime, that when basketball isn’t going on, it gives fans something to enjoy. They did a good job with this one.”