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Does Ice Cube hold the key to bringing Kobe back to the basketball court?

Entertainment mogul Ice Cube brings his professional 3-on-3 basketball league, BIG3, to Spectrum Center on Saturday.
Entertainment mogul Ice Cube brings his professional 3-on-3 basketball league, BIG3, to Spectrum Center on Saturday. AP

Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 pro basketball league passed its first big test on Sunday night, drawing 15,177 fans to BIG3’s debut in Brooklyn.

Next up? Charlotte.

This Sunday, BIG3 – the brainchild of the rapper/Hollywood star – rolls into uptown’s Spectrum Center for the second stop on its 10-week U.S. summer tour, which features retired NBA players playing fast games with audacious rules on half a court in an attempt to recapture some of that old magic.

“I think when people see Brooklyn, I won’t have to run around trying to explain the concept,” Cube said in a phone interview with the Observer prior to this past weekend’s season opener. “I just think it’s all gonna hit people and they gonna say, ‘Damn, how did we live without this?’ 

It’s pretty simple. Each week, the eight teams are divided into four matchups. Games of 3-on-3 are played to 60 points, with a break for halftime as soon as the first team hits 30. Only half the court is used, with players required to clear the ball out to the 3-point line upon snagging defensive rebounds.

In the interest of speeding up play, the shot clock runs down after just 14 seconds; in the interest of adding a new level of excitement, there are three circles beyond the 3-point line from which players can take shots worth 4 points.

An even bigger draw – other than Ice Cube, who will indeed be in town next weekend for the games – will be the cast of characters involved, including Julius Erving (who coaches the Tri-State team); former University of North Carolina star Rashad McCants (who the Trilogy team selected No. 1 in the BIG3 draft, held in April); and former All-Star Charles Oakley (a player/coach for the Killer 3s; at 53, he’s the oldest player in the league by five years).

And the greatest get of all has to be charismatic NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, who serves as captain and player/coach of 3’s Company, and who trained in Charlotte for this summer season under the eye of his high school coach, Mike Bailey.

BIG3 Basketball(2)
3’s Company player/captain and coach Allen Iverson, center, kneels on the sideline during the first half of Game 3 in the BIG3 Basketball League debut Sunday at the Barclays Center in New York. Kathy Willens AP

Here are eight other things you should know about the BIG3 before it hits Charlotte next weekend:

1. Cube had fantasized about a 3-on-3 basketball league for years, but didn’t get serious until he watched Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant light up the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016. “When I saw Kobe score 60 points in his last game, I thought: If somebody wanted to see that guy play basketball again, there’s nowhere really for him to be for you to see that. And why not? So I talked to (longtime manager/partner) Jeff (Kwatinetz) about it, and that’s how it started to really go.” The league, co-founded by Kwatinetz, was officially launched five months ago, with former NBA Players Association executive director Roger Mason Jr. as president and commissioner, and ex-Raiders CEO Amy Trask as BIG3’s CEO.

“We had a dream team of people who could do it,” Cube said. “If we waited a year, we felt like somebody would have gotten the jump on us. We thought, ‘If somebody catches wind of our (idea), they could create this league without us’ – and we just weren’t gonna let that happen.” It became an even savvier move than expected: Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee approved the addition of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to the 2020 Summer Olympics.

2. BIG3 players must be at least 30 years old, and “they’ve gotta have had more than a cup of coffee in the NBA,” Cube said. (In fact, every single current BIG3 player has NBA experience.) But this is no retirement league. “We got some players that might not be that well-known that, on the 3-on-3 level, they might be the man. So we still think we got room to make stars and not just take stars. We think some guys are gonna shine who really might have not been able to make a name for themselves in the NBA, but when people see their 3-on-3 game, it could possibly get ’em back to the NBA.”

BIG3 Basketball (1)
3 Headed Monsters Jason Williams (55) drives up against Ghost Ballers Ivan Johnson (44) during the first half of Ganme 1 in the BIG3 Basketball League debut Sunday at the Barclays Center in New York. Kathy Willens AP

3. Cube and Mason agreed that the rule they’re most excited about is the 4-point shot. “From a basketball standpoint, it really opens up the floor,” said Mason, who played for eight NBA teams from 2002 to 2014. “It really allows guys to have more space to move and to show their skills. And let’s face it, we’re in an era where players’ skill levels are constantly increasing and range is constantly being challenged. The Steph Currys of the world have shown us that range can be unlimited. So a 4-point shot is something that I think will be a game-changer.” (For his part, Iverson said, chuckling: “That’s a little bit out of my range. If I do it, it’s gonna be a runner, ’cause every one’ll be an airball if not.”)

4. Mason and Cube also agreed about the rule they’re second-most excited about: Shooting fouls will result in free throws attempted from the traditional line for 2s, from the top of the 3-point line for 3s, and from the top 4-point circle for 4s. In each case, it’s one shot for all the points. “We feel like that’s innovative, it’s faster, it’s funner, and it’s fairer, to be honest,” Cube said, “ ’cause if a guy takes one shot for three and he gets fouled, why does he have to make three shots to get those points? ... If you hit it, you get it; if not, we keep playing.”

5. Each team will play eight regular-season games, in eight different cities, over eight Mondays. The playoffs are Aug. 20 in Seattle, and the championship finals are set for Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. Why did BIG3 pick Charlotte as one of the tour stops? “We feel like North Carolina loves basketball,” Cube said. “It’s a basketball town – really a basketball state – so we just felt like it was a great place to go. If we do well there, we’ll be back (next year). If not ... I don’t know.”

6. Expect games to last 35-40 minutes. Each week, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Go will package the quadruple-header into a three-hour tape-delayed broadcast that will begin at 8 p.m. Monday.

BIG3 Basketball
Rapper LL Cool J, second from left, reacts as he watches during the first half of Game 1 in the BIG3 Basketball League debut Sunday at the Barclays Center in New York. Kathy Willens AP

7. Expect players to bring their “A” games. For one, there’s an incentive to win: BIG3 players each pocket $100,000 for landing on one of the eight five-man squads, but they also will share in the league’s revenue, with bonuses based on their team’s record. On top of the financial incentives, something intangible is at stake. “It’s a lot of pride and legacy on the line,” Cube said. “Guys have made a name for themselves, and they don’t wanna give that up in one afternoon. So you dudes are gonna be chippy. ... (In exhibition play) we had to separate dudes a couple times, ’cause it’s raw emotion.” Added Iverson: “Yeah, I don’t know how much I’m gonna be going in that lane, ’cause these guys out here are playin’ real physical.”

8. Cube hopes that guys like Iverson – and a proven track record of success, a strong fan base, etc. – will help make BIG3 the go-to home for marquee players. “It’s only Year One. Just think when we have Paul Pierce looking at us, and KG (Kevin Garnett), and Tim Duncan, and Ray Allen, and Steph Curry, and LeBron James, and D (Dwyane) Wade. When you have them starting to look at our league as a viable option one day, there’s no telling where this can go.” As for Kobe? “If his competitive juices start flowing,” Cube said, “we’ll get him.”

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

BIG3 in action

What: Four games, with all eight of the league’s five-man squads.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, July 2.

Where: Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St.

Tickets: $18 and up.

Details: 800-745-3000; www.spectrumcentercharlotte.com.

BIG3 players with (at least a little of) the Carolinas in their blood: Ricky Davis was a first-round draft pick for the Hornets in 1998, and was in Charlotte till 2000. ... Lee Nailon, a second-round pick for the Hornets in 1999, played for the team 2000-02. ... Stephen Jackson was on the Bobcats 2009-11. ... Larry Hughes played part of the 2010 season with the Bobcats. ... Kwame Brown and Dominic McGuire each spent the 2010-11 season with the Bobcats; Charles Oakley was an assistant for the team that year. ... Corey Maggette was a Bobcat during the 2011-12 campaign. ...

Jermaine O’Neal is a Columbia, S.C. native who played for Portland, Indiana, Toronto, Miami, Boston, Phoenix and Golden State between 1996 and 2014. ... Eddie Basden, who spent one season with the Chicago Bulls (2005-06), was at UNC Charlotte 2001-2005; he holds the school record for career steals and his No. 13 jersey was retired in 2009. ... Asheville native Rashad McCants was a star at the University of North Carolina 2002-2005, and in the NBA spent four seasons in Minnesota and one in Sacramento. ...

And NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, now 42, has lived in Charlotte for the past two years.

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