Back in 2020, Ice Cube had big aspirations for his BIG3 basketball league. After starting in 2017, the operation saw three successful seasons that drew in larger and larger crowds with each game. The BIG3 was becoming the premier destination for 3-on-3 professional basketball, and its product was unique enough to set itself apart from every other basketball league in the world. Heading into what would have been last season, the league was ready to change the product further thanks to its new Fireball3 rules package, which would allow coaches to challenge fouls and have a one-on-one showdown called Bring The Heat, as opposed to the usual free throw.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced the league to shut down for a year which prompted Ice Cube to come up with new ways to keep the BIG3 going. For instance, there were rumors that Cube would executive produce a reality show in which all of the league's players live in one big house where they also play tournaments for cash prizes. It was an ambitious idea that never came to fruition, however, Cube still had massive hopes for 2021, and he was able to execute big time.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
One of Cube's big goals was to have the BIG3 play in international markets, and 2021 was the perfect opportunity to get that done with travel opening up overseas. Early this season, Cube announced that the playoffs and championship game would be played at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in Nassau, Bahamas, which was certainly great motivation for the league's players to give it their all. On Saturday, September 4th, the championship game was played between the 3 Headed Monsters and the Trilogy. It was the Trilogy who came out on top, thanks to the heroics of Jarrett Jack, and the coaching of Stephen Jackson.
While we were there, we got to catch up with Ice Cube, who spoke to us about his love for the game, the challenges of growing a brand new league, and why he ultimately chose the Bahamas as the host country for the BIG3's fourth championship game.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
WATCH: Ice Cube BIG3 Interview
HNHH: So firstly, you created the BIG3 about four years ago. What was your main goal when you first started the league?
Ice Cube: Just as a fan, want to see guys I know who had honed these skills to the highest level, continue to play at a high level. I know with the NBA, sometimes it’s not even an age thing, it’s a numbers game, and you have fifteen people on the team. So you have a lot of talent on the sidelines, and to have a league where they can display that, entertain the people in the summer, because if you’re not a baseball fan, soccer, golf, you know, or preseason football, you’re not really being satisfied in the summer. I knew that there was a kind of a void in the industry and a league done the right way will work.
For sure, and seeing the growth of the league, how do you feel like you’ve… do you feel like you’ve reached that goal, or are you getting close to it?
I think with a league you just want to continue to gain more and more fans. I don’t know if there’s a goal to reach in a way. It’s keep people interested in the league, continue to grow the league, make sure the league, you know, comes back year after year, develop a fan base, grow the fan base. There’s like 10, 20 years of work ahead of us, you know what I mean, to make sure this league has its roots in the ground. With something like this, it’s an ongoing project, that’s never, you should never be satisfied, we should always want more.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
You have built a pretty large fanbase so far, What are some of the rules and elements of the BIG3 that you really think that have you know, helped grow the fanbase, and sustain the fanbase as well.
We have some great rules, the big ones are a four-point shot for points circles. Also the one shot free throws, instead of two shots. You know, somebody is taking the three-pointer, nobody wants to see him shoot three free throws, you know, so it’s one for three, one for two. And if you’re shooting four, nobody definitely wanna see four free throws, so it’s one for four. No time clock. So first 50 win, you have to win by two, but we have a shot clock, so can’t just hold the ball. You gotta shoot it, you gotta get it up there, so it moves very fast. You can see a BIG3 game in an hour, where in the NBA, it takes about two and a half, three, before the game is over, so it’s a fast moving game, and I think it’s good, perfect, for the new sports fan who don’t have a lotta time.
"You can see a BIG3 game in an hour, where in the NBA, it takes about two and a half, three, before the game is over, so it’s a fast moving game, and I think it’s good, perfect, for the new sports fan who don’t have a lotta time."
And this year you implemented the Fireball3 Package. What kind of prompted you guys to go with that?
Well, we got a rule presented by Taco Bell called Bring the Fire. And it’s a rule where a coach can challenge a foul, a shooting foul, once a half. And instead of the foul, they had the guys go one-on-one for the call, so if you make it, good basket. If you miss it, foul comes off the board. I think it’s what the fans wanna see, you know, not referees controlling the game, but the actual players in control of their own fate. So it’s a great rule, people love when the best players go one-on-one, you know, even in the NBA, they love to see it so, you have this rule unique for the BIG3 is perfect.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
You were saying you’re such a massive sports fan. So what has it been like being able to grow the league and watch it come together like this?
It’s been very fun, just seeing the league develop, just seeing the graphics, seeing the teams, seeing fans in the jerseys, fans in the t-shirts. Knowing that the league is growing organically, also that young people love the league. You know, young people play 3-on-3 a lot, at school or on playgrounds, backyards, so it’s a young game, it’s new, it’s fresh, and I’m proud of it.
You mentioned 3-on-3, obviously, it became part of the Olympics this year and it’s much different rules than FIBA, but do you feel like maybe the BIG3 helped really popularize 3-on-3 basketball and make it more of something that people wanna watch day in and day out?
No doubt. You know, if you look at the history, they've been around for a long time, FIBA. 3-on-3, which is that amateur version of 3-on-3. But it wasn't until we announced, in 2017 that we was going to make a professional version of three on three, that the Olympics finally came around and said this is a sport that they wanted to adapt. What we do in the Big Three is a lot different than what they doing in FIBA. BIG3 I think is a better game to play and a better game to watch, and we're proud to have the best 3-on-3 league in the world, so it's cool what they're doing, that comes around every four years. We come around every year. So get with us.
"It wasn't until we announced, in 2017 that we was going to make a professional version of three on three, that the Olympics finally came around and said this is a sport that they wanted to adapt. What we do in the Big Three is a lot different than what they doing in FIBA. BIG3 I think is a better game to play and a better game to watch, and we're proud to have the best 3-on-3 league in the world."
You guys have been in the Bahamas for about a week now. What sparked the decision to have the finals in an international location?
Just go outside and look around, you know. [Laughs]
It's a beautiful location. Players are excited. In 2020 and 2019, we had gone to 18 different cities in the States, so to be able to go international with the league is something that's part of our plan. We went to Toronto, we had a plan to go to China before the pandemic. So this is where we wanna be, we want to, you know, do our championship in some of the best places, most exotic places in the world. Big basketball towns. You know, we do want to reward the best teams in our league.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
And did you find that the players maybe put in a little bit extra effort into it at the end of the season, you know, to get that trip over here?
Without a doubt. They've been talking about it all season. And I always say if they didn't, if they didn't want to play hard, they wives and their girlfriends would make them play hard to get over here for that, you know, free paid vacation. So it's been a great time for our league coming back after the pandemic to cap it off with champagne in the Bahamas, like why not?
So where do you see the league in 5 to 10 years from now?
More teams. We're working on what we call the Big Cup, which is like the World Cup, but for 3-on-3 basketball. We invite countries from all over the world, submit teams and play the BIG3 rules. See who's the best in the world for real. And you know, just grow the brand, grow the fan base, make our sponsors happy. Make our partners, our players, and coaches, happy.
Well thank you very much for taking the time.