When the Big3 championship game takes place Sunday at Staples Center, Ice Cube, the co-founder of the three-on-three basketball league, will do what he normally does whenever he walks into the arena. He will take a moment to look up at the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jerseys and smile.
While the Lakers are once again championship contenders this season, they could have been prohibitive favorites if they had signed Kawhi Leonard this summer. Leonard, like Paul George last year, spurned the Lakers and now both Los Angeles natives are on the Clippers, making them a popular championship pick for the first time in franchise history.
“I wish they would have come to the Lakers, but I guess they picked the team that they were more comfortable playing with,” Cube said of Leonard and George. “You got to be special to play for the Lakers. You have to be ready for all that comes with that. Those championship banners and those jerseys are looking down at you when you play for the Lakers, and it’s probably easier to play if you cover those up for some people.”
The Clippers currently don’t have any banners or retired jerseys at Staples Center. Many Lakers fans joke that Taylor Swift, who has a banner for the most sold-out performances at the arena, has more of a presence at their home than their hall mates who have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs. As good as the Clippers are on paper this season, Cube thinks they will never truly be L.A.’s team.
“The Clippers are like your cousin who moved in and starts thinking it’s his house because he’s been there for so long,” Cube said. “I really think they should move the team. We didn’t ask them to come here. I think it’s unfair to so many cities in America who don’t have a team like Seattle that we have two teams here in L.A. They should move because it’s never going to happen for them here. They may have a blip on the radar every now and then, but it’s never going to be their city. They should just get out and take the Chargers with them.”
Cube, a longtime Raiders fan, doesn’t like the fact that the Chargers and Clippers are trying to claim Inglewood as their future home with the Chargers and Rams moving into a new stadium across the street from The Forum next year and the Clippers trying to build a new arena there by 2024. He was hoping the Raiders could have found a way back to L.A. but thinks Las Vegas could end up being a perfect fit.
“It makes no sense that the Chargers are here,” Cube said. “They must be gluttons for punishment and abuse to try and call L.A. their home. It’s still a Raiders town. I wish they would have come here but I’m sad for the people of Oakland. I don’t understand why they could never get a stadium built there. I’m happy they’re getting the brand new stadium that they deserve. Las Vegas and the Raiders are like long-lost relatives. They’re kind of made for each other. I just hope our team won’t have too much fun in Vegas. It’s going to be a terrible season if they do. I have mixed emotions about that move.”
When Cube looks up into the rafters at Staples Center on Sunday he will also see Lisa Leslie’s No. 9 jersey, which was retired in 2010 after winning back-to-back WNBA titles with the Sparks. Leslie, who was recently named the Big3’s coach of the year, will attempt to win another championship in L.A. as the coach of the Triplets, led by Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson and Jamario Moon, who had stints with the Clippers and the Lakers’ G League team. Cube hopes the success of Leslie and Nancy Lieberman, who won a title and was named coach of the year last season, will convince others that women should be given a chance to be head coaches in the NBA.
“When you’re starting a league like this you want to start off with credibility,” he said. “We wanted to have some of the best minds that ever played the game as our coaches. We were looking at Hall of Famers. We looked at Nancy Lieberman with her resume not only as a player but as a coach and look what she did last year. Lisa and her husband sat next to me at a game last season and she was into it. When we added four new teams this year I wanted to see if she would be interested in joining and she was. Nancy and Lisa are two of the best coaches in the league.”
With three-on-three basketball becoming an Olympic sports next summer in Tokyo, Cube would like to see some of the league’s players be considered by USA Basketball but isn’t optimistic that will happen. Team USA won the FIBA 3x3 World Cup in June but none of the players have NBA experience.
“It would be irresponsible for USA Basketball not to look at our guys to represent the United States,” Cube said. “We have some of the best players to ever play the game and they’re showing what they can do in this three-on-three half-court setting. They should be given a shot but I don’t know if they will. There’s a lot of politics involved there with FIBA and they’re not happy with what we’re doing, but I think they should be given a chance.”
Cube also thinks Lakers fans should give Dwight Howard a second chance this season after the center recently signed a one-year deal with the team. No one was more critical of Howard when he left Los Angeles in 2013 than Cube, who called him “Dwight Coward” among other less flattering things, but that’s water under the bridge in his eyes.
“I think Los Angeles should give Dwight a clean slate and let his game speak for itself,” he said. “If he can help, it’ll show and if he can’t, it’ll show. I would love for him to concentrate on what he does best — rebound, defense, blocked shots and lob dunks. If he can do that, Dwight will be all right. I’m not even going to think about the first go around. That’s in the past.”
While Cube hopes the Lakers will hang another championship banner at Staples Center next year, he doesn’t believe this is a make-or-break season for the team after missing the playoffs the previous six seasons. He thinks the Lakers’ core of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma will end up winning multiple titles before they’re done.
“I’m excited about this season with A.D., LeBron, Kuzma and everyone they got,” Cube said. “I think this could ultimately be a mesh year where they figure out how to play with each other. I think we’re going to go deep into the playoffs but if they don’t win it this year I’m not going to be upset. I expect to win back-to-back championships in LeBron’s last two years.”