Professional 3-on-3 basketball makes its debut in Boston this weekend when BIG3 takes over the TD Garden. The league, founded by the legendary Ice Cube, features a number of former NBA stars, including several ex-Celtics like Nate Robinson, Glen Davis and the “White Mamba,” Brian Scalabrine.
Following a successful inaugural season in 2017, BIG3 has expanded its reach this year, bringing the action to more arenas around the country and to viewers across the globe thanks to live-streaming and broadcast deals with Fox Sports and Facebook. The future is pretty bright for BIG3, too, with interest growing for video game projects, as well as possible international leagues, which would take advantage of the growing hype around 3-on-3 basketball ahead its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. All of this is music to Ice Cube’s ears. The rapper, actor and lifelong Lakers fan has always had a special place in his heart for the sport and is excited to see his league grow.
Ahead of Friday’s games in Boston, we caught up with Ice Cube to chat about BIG3’s future, his thoughts on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry now that LeBron James is with Los Angeles and more.
Ice Cube talks BIG3, LeBron James vs. Kyrie Irving and more
As BIG3 gets ready to take over the Garden, what are your thoughts on Boston? Has the city been good to you over the years?
I love Boston because it’s a city that loves its own identity and is proud of its traditions. I respect that a lot. I always know that when you hear Boston, it reminds me of a city that you know you’re going to get a blue collar effort. Being from L.A., a lot of people think that all we like is sunshine, finesse, pretty stuff—but it’s not true. It’s a lot of grit in Los Angeles, it’s just that side of the city is never publicized. It’s always the beach and the glamour. There’s always been a ton of respect, even more than like New York. In New York, there seems like there’s a rivalry there for no reason. But with Boston, it just seems like there’s no rivalry between the cities besides the sports. New York is always giving us static. I’m pretty sure Boston gives us our share, but only because of the sports.
As a Lakers fan, you must be pumped about the LeBron news. Do you see a renewed L.A.-Boston rivalry, considering LeBron’s rocky relationship with Kyrie Irving?
A little bit, yeah. I think the Lakers have a lot of work to do to get to where the Celtics seem like they’re already at. I think it’s going to be cool just because Kyrie vs. LeBron is always going to bring some attention nowadays. It’s great because both of those great players are on storied franchises, so that’s going to be good. But until the Lakers get into playoff contention, contending for a title like the Celtics are, then it’s going to be like “Come on, hurry up to the party.” The Lakers have some work to do.
The Lakers are in a tough division out west too.
That’s how you want it. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best.
As BIG3’s sophomore season comes to a close this summer, what’s been the biggest improvements over last year? How do you plan to take things to another level going forward?
The basketball is better, which to me, is where it all starts. Everything else doesn’t work if the basketball is trash. The basketball has to be great, the integrity for the game has to be extremely high and I think we’re meeting those criteria. Adding another official, we’re not missing obvious calls, which is good. Being live is great. I think that’s extremely important to sports. If you’re not live, you’re not really in the game, to be honest. You’re more of a program, not in the mix. Being live is a step in the right direction.
When you’re live on TV and you’re live at the arena, people don’t necessarily have to come. But you might get a building that’s not 18,000 people. It might be 10,000. In the future going ahead, we have to learn how to get 18,000 people in that building and show it on TV in the same city, so the excitement for the sport has to go up. These are the things we’re ready to do and implement. This is just part of us learning, growing pains of the league.
From the style of play to having an MC in the arena, BIG3 has a lot of fun aspects to it that traditional sports leagues lack. Is that the mission with BIG3, to make basketball fun again?
Our motto is “We’re changing the game.” That’s what we want to do for the better, not just to do it, but for the better, actually. We’re not like, “Let’s come in here, muck it up, do something different just because.” Everything we do we feel is to make the game more entertaining, more accessible and just what people want to see, true passion, true emotions. We don’t want to police our players to the point where they feel like robots out there. Just being able to trash talk, express yourself. Of course, we don’t want a whole lot of profanity, that’s what we come down on is the the language. But just the fact that you can express yourself makes the game more entertaining.
Like soccer or mixed martial arts, basketball has a large global audience since anyone can play without needing a ton of equipment. Do you feel BIG3 has the potentially to expand internationally?
Without a doubt. We’ve already been talking to Leandro Barbosa about BIG3 Brazil or BIG3 South America, and we’ve been talking to people in China about BIG3 China. We feel like if we can get a few territories around the world, Australia, maybe Europe, the champions of those leagues can play in the summer against the best in the world. We feel like, by 3-on-3 being an Olympic sport, every country that plays basketball, if they weren’t interested in 3-on-3, got to get interested. This is a cool way to promote the sport, get players to play in a league where, when they go to the Olympics, they’re ready. It seems like this is what’s coming together, slowly but surely.
If you had to sign one hip-hop star with skills on the courts to BIG3, who would it be?
Probably The Game. I think he’s big enough and strong enough to play in the BIG3. You’ve got to have your big boy pants on to play this because the guys, their basketball IQ is through the roof.
From basketball and business to hip-hop and Hollywood, you’ve left your mark in a lot of places. When you look back at your legacy, years from now, how do you hope to be remembered?
If you go:
Aug. 3, 7 p.m., TD Garden, 100 Legends Way, $27+, tdgarden.com