The BIG3, a 3-on-3 basketball league founded by rapper/actor Ice Cube and featuring former NBA players, heads into Week 2 on Sunday with four games at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. Tipoff is 2 p.m.
Here are five questions about the new league:
1. Is this just NBA basketball with fewer players?
Not quite. While the rosters for all eight teams are comprised of former NBA players, the on-court action isn’t unlike a pick-up contest.
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The games are played half-court, there are 14-second shot clocks and the ball must be cleared after each change in possession (except after steals). There are three special “4-point circles” that award an extra point for long-range shots, and free throws result in one attempt worth two, three or four points.
Essentially, it’s blacktop rules with hyper-competitive former NBA veterans.
2. How long does it take to play?
In the league’s debut in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week, the first team to score 60 points and win by two points was declared the winner. That led to an almost six-hour spectacle, a tough fit for the three-hour Fox Sports 1 tape-delay broadcast and an even tougher sell for the Barclays Center audience of 15,177.
“We realized it was too long,” said BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz.
That’ll change in Charlotte, where the league will adopt “first-to-50” rules and change halftime from the 30-point mark to the 25-point mark.
BIG3 officials also took issue with the lines at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, saying they took fans hours to get into the games. Charlotte fans should hopefully expect a shorter queue Sunday.
3. Who cares about it?
The players sure seemed to, at least in the opening weekend. They were diving after loose balls and fighting in the paint, so much so that BIG3 founder Ice Cube complained about the lax officiating – especially with obvious fouls on the perimeter.
“We’re going to talk to the officials to make sure we have a cleaner game,” he said.
Fans seemed invested in the on-court action, even if they fled for the exits before the end of the fourth game. And Kwatinetz said the TV ratings exceeded what anybody expected. Charlotte was the ninth-biggest audience for the BIG3 this past Monday, and the Raleigh-Durham market checked in at No. 2.
After what they called a successful debut in Brooklyn, BIG3 officials said ticket sales in Charlotte spiked. The presence of former North Carolina star Rashad McCants likely interested the local TV audiences.
4. Who’s the real MVP?
So far, not the names you’d expect. Allen Iverson, 42, the tournament’s biggest draw , played limited minutes last weekend. Five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups is reportedly a candidate for the Cleveland Cavaliers general manager’s job and has been absent. Columbia native Jermaine O’Neal, the league’s next-most accomplished player, , won’t play Sunday for personal reasons.
Instead, the journeymen made their names. The league’s standout last weekend was 27-point scorer Rashard Lewis, whose height and shooting touch fit nicely into a 3-on-3 setting. Shooting guard Ricky Davis scored 23 points in the first weekend, and 6-foot-8 Reggie Evans was a force in the paint.
It’s not a cast of characters casual NBA fans will be familiar with, but longtime fans might appreciate the transformation of former role players into go-to guys.
5. Can they stay on the court?
The main concern with the league has been injuries. In the first four games, three players were hurt: point guard Jason Williams went down for six to eight months with a knee injury, Corey Maggette has no timetable after surgery on his lower leg, and Kenyon Martin tweaked his hamstring but didn’t require surgery.
The injuries quickly promoted the narrative that older players years removed from the game are, unsurprisingly, more susceptible to injury. But BIG3 officials took issue with the conclusion.
“It’s an unfortunate part of physical activity and physical sports,” Kwatinetz said, “but injuries happen.”
Kwatinetz admitted that the intensity level might have been higher than players expected, but he said he expects an adjustment period as the season continues. For the players and fans in Charlotte, hopefully that adjustment comes Sunday.
C Jackson Cowart on Twitter: @CJacksonCowart
BIG3 players to watch
Allen Iverson, PG (3’s Company): An 11-time All-Star and former MVP, Iverson is the only current Hall of Famer among the field. But at 42, he’s more coach than player.
Mike Bibby, PG (Ghost Ballers): Bibby’s best shooting days came in the second half of his 14-year career, which ended in 2012 for the former No. 2 overall pick.
Rashard Lewis, SF/PF (3 Headed Monster): Lewis carved out a 16-year career as a 6-foot-10 forward with a deft shooting touch, which helped redefine the modern NBA big man.
Stephen Jackson, SF (Killer 3s): The last time “Cap’n Jack” saw NBA success was in Charlotte, where he averaged 19.8 points for the Bobcats from 2009-11.
Kenyon Martin, PF (Trilogy): The No. 1 pick in 2000, Martin is two years removed from an NBA roster and seven years from averaging a near double-double.
Al Harrington, PF (Trilogy): After a slow start to his career, the 16-year veteran averaged double-digit points for 11 consecutive seasons before two seasons riding the bench.
Reggie Evans, PF (Killer 3s): Unlike most BIG3 players, Evans never averaged 10 points in a season. But the undersized forward, who started seven games in 2014-15, is a reliable rebounder.
DeShawn Stevenson, SG (Power): For 13 seasons, Stevenson was as tough as any NBA player, even if his offensive production didn’t always match his intensity.
Ricky Davis, SG (Ghost Ballers): The self-proclaimed “gunner” wasn’t much of a 3-point shooter until the middle in his 12-year career, but the Iowa product has always been a scorer.
Rashad McCants, SG (Trilogy): McCants’ NBA career lasted four seasons, but the former lottery pick from UNC is just 32 and was the BIG3 league’s top pick.
Kwame Brown, C (3 Headed Monster): Brown is possibly the biggest bust in NBA history, but the 2001 top pick started 50 games for Charlotte in 2010-11 before retiring two years later.
C Jackson Cowart