Waking up on Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas is a privileged experience. Upon arriving at the resort, you will immediately notice large towers that are connected via an enclosed bridge that overlooks the ocean. These towers each offer a different hotel experience as part of the expansive resort property, and they are filled with everything from Casinos and shops, to, of course, spacious rooms with impressively large beds. Each room comes equipped with a large balcony that reveals gorgeous views of the marina, complemented by massive yachts and pastel color homes that look as though they came straight out of a storybook. Once you make your way out of your room, there are plenty of outdoor wonders to explore, including sandy beaches and crystal clear waters that will have you reconsidering why you bought a two-way ticket. It’s a place where discontent and stress don’t exist, and even if you arrive in such a state, within just a couple of hours, you will quickly understand why everyone on the island is in such a happy-go-lucky mood. Having said that, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Island is also the perfect backdrop for a championship weekend getaway.
Earlier this year, that is exactly the idea Ice Cube came up with for his BIG3 basketball league. This past week, the BIG3 invited the top four teams in the league to Atlantis Paradise Island, where they participated in their annual playoffs. It was an ambitious idea from the start, but if you know Cube, then you understand that ambition is par for the course when it comes to his projects.
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Founded in 2017, the BIG3 is a relatively new 3-on-3 basketball league that brings retired NBA players, former International stars, and even walk-ons together for the experience of a lifetime. The league markets itself as a beacon of professional 3-on-3 basketball that continues to grow and gain new players, both young and old.
When Cube created the league alongside Jeff Kwatinetz, the goal was quite simple. They wanted to make something so unique that fans had to tune in on a weekly basis. Cube is well aware of the non-NBA talent that is out there, and he felt like it was about time that these players got their shine. Not to mention, it was also a great opportunity to provide fans with offseason entertainment.
“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,” Cube told HotNewHipHop. “I knew that there was a kind of a void in the industry and a league done the right way will work.”
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Over the years, sports like football have seen various offseason leagues come and go. American football is a multi-billion dollar industry and entities like the AAF, XFL, and even the USFL have popped up in order to compete with the giant that is the NFL. In 2019, the AAF lasted all of six weeks, while the XFL was taken down in its comeback season in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. With these recent examples in mind, it isn’t unreasonable for the uninitiated to question the BIG3’s longevity in the sports world, especially given the history of startup professional sports leagues in North America.
Luckily, the BIG3 has something special going for it, and that is the 3-on-3 element. The vast majority of professional basketball leagues are played full-court, 5-on-5. This is the game that most fans have become accustomed to, although if you played basketball growing up, then you know just how much fun halfcourt 3-on-3 truly is. If you were to watch a BIG3 game, you would immediately be impressed by just how unique the product is compared to any other basketball organization. For instance, in order to win, your team must reach 50 points first, and you must win by two points or more. As for fouls, there is only one foul shot that is worth however many points the fouled shot would have counted for. Essentially, the foul line is an all-or-nothing type of play that sees the shooter score, two, three, or zero points off of one shot. In 2020, the league even implemented the Fireball 3 rules package which allows coaches to challenge a foul and usher in a 1-Vs-1 scenario that leads to some truly impeccable battles on the court.
The league’s brand of 3-on-3 basketball has popularized this subset of the sport, and it has even influenced international competition. This year at the Olympics, 3-on-3 basketball was added to the games, and while the rules are much different than the BIG3, there is no doubt that Ice Cube’s league had a substantial influence on the growth of three aside. With that being said, Cube is quick to remind people that the BIG3’s game is a lot more entertaining.
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“What we do in the BIG3 is a lot different than what they doing in FIBA,” Cube explained. “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 would be impossible to speak about the growth of the BIG3 without mentioning the league’s commissioner Clyde Drexler. The legendary Portland Trail Blazers superstar joined the league in its second season, and he immediately made an impact as he used his knowledge of the game to help tailor the rules to what the players enjoy. Drexler played a copious amount of 3-on-3 basketball during his youth, and he knew that a player-driven league would be something that can attract even more high-profile names to the organization.
When asked about why he wanted to join the BIG3 as an executive, Drexler spoke about just how interesting the league is and how, in many ways, it is better than the NBA. He also explained how the league has a general sense of camaraderie that immediately goes out the window once players hit the floor.
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“There's no buddy-buddy stuff in the BIG3,” Drexler joked. “And then afterwards, they can go to dinner. But that's what I love about the BIG3 is real, professional 3-on-3 basketball, the best in the world. And these guys go at it. It's more physical than an NBA game. And it's a lot more fun.”
Throughout the league’s history, it has seen players like Stephen Jackson, Cuttino Mobley, Lamar Odom, Nate Robinson, Nick Young, “Iso” Joe Johnson, and a whole host of other big names. As for coaches, there are plenty of legends to go around as Julius Irving, Lisa Leslie, and Gary Payton are all in the mix. As Drexler noted to HNHH, these players grew up playing 3-on-3 and that the BIG3 allows them to live out their childhood fantasies, at a professional level.
“The BIG3 is so enticing because it's half-court 3-on-3 professional basketball. At this level it's never been done before," Drexler said. "So what Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz did, they're the visionaries. And this game is something that we've played all of our lives. And to be able to do it on a professional level, it's awesome.”
After two successful seasons in 2017 and 2018, the league expanded from eight teams to 12 in 2019, and it allowed for more talented players to join the operation. With CBS Sports broadcasting the games, the fanbase continued to grow, and now, when you watch a game in person, you will immediately notice that fans are wearing the merch of their favorite teams, and there is a real sense of community amongst supporters. The cheers are loud, the mood is lifted, and most importantly, the game is appreciated. Unlike the previously mentioned defunct football leagues, the BIG3 doesn’t try to compete with the biggest basketball league in the world. Instead, it focuses on being its own unique entity. It doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not, and it is the players’ confidence in the product that has ultimately kept it going.
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When COVID hit in 2020, the league could have folded like many others. Instead, Cube got to work drumming up ways to keep the league going. At one point, there was a report that Cube was going to run a reality show in which BIG3 players live under one roof and compete in basketball tournaments. It was an ambitious ploy that ultimately never came to fruition. Regardless, the league marched forward and in 2021, it returned in full force. That’s when Cube announced that the league would be going International for its playoffs, as players from the Top 4 teams would travel to Paradise Island for what would prove to be the greatest paid vacation one could ask for. For Cube, this trip was simply the natural progression of the league’s growth.
“In 2018 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,” Ice Cube remarked. “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.”
The championship game itself was a true celebration of the league’s continued growth. It was only fitting that the match was actually a rematch of the inaugural BIG3 championship in 2017, between the 3 Headed Monsters and the Trilogy. Once again, it was the Trilogy who came out on top thanks to a clutch three-point shot from former NBA journeyman Jarrett Jack. The Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort was packed with fans and tourists who received their very first taste of BIG3 basketball. From the special buzzer dedicated to coaches’ challenges to the densely populated court, onlookers got to see what the league is all about, and they got to do it while surrounded by natural beauty. In many ways, the decision to come to Nassau was a stroke of marketing genius that will pay off long term. Based on the crowd reactions throughout the game, it’s clear that the league was able to create some new fans in the process, which ultimately validates the league’s decision to host their playoffs in one of the Caribbean’s most popular islands.
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Moving forward, Cube has big plans for the league. As he explained, growing a league is work that never stops, and there is still 20 years left of planning to take place. The artist and entrepreneur wants to turn the league into an international entity that brings the world together under one roof to provide the best 3-on-3 basketball there is.
“We're working on what we call the Big Cup, which is like the World Cup, but for 3-on-3 basketball,” Cube said. “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.”
While it remains to be seen where the BIG3 will go next, there is no doubt that the ambition to explore the world is alive and well. As more fans and players access the league, it seems likely that 3-on-3 basketball will be an unstoppable force for decades to come.
For more coverage of the BIG3 championships, check out our in-depth interview with Ice Cube, right here.