Will America spend large chunks of its summers watching its former heroes playing pickup ball?
A lot of smart people seem to think so.
That would explain Roger Mason’s calendar the next couple of weeks -- meetings with officials from ESPN, Turner Sports (which runs NBA.com), CBS and Fox. Mason is going as an executive, not a former player looking for an analyst gig. He has a league to sell -- a new three-on-three, half-court basketball league, The BIG3, that has already garnered a slew of social and terrestrial media attention less than a few weeks after its existence was first reported on by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski in December. Mason is the president and commissioner of the league, the brainchild of rapper/actor Ice Cube and veteran entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, Cube’s business partner.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Mason said Sunday night. “But it’s awesome.”
The new league will begin right after The NBA Finals end in late June. There will be eight teams of five players apiece, along with a coach/GM, who will select his team’s players after a draft combine in the spring. The draft will be three rounds of eight players each round. Players have to be at least 30 years old to be eligible. There will be four games a week for 10 weeks, culminating in a two-week playoff in August.
Hall of Famers George Gervin and Gary Payton have said they’ll coach. Fellow HOFer Allen Iverson has said he’ll both coach and play. Former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, NBA champions Stephen Jackson and Mike Bibby and former vets like Jermaine O’Neal, Corey Maggette, Rashard Lewis and Bonzi Wells are among those lacing them up again as players.
Those involved insist they’re not seeking to recapture their glory days or fatten their wallets. (BIG3 players will each receive $100,000 once they make one of the league’s teams, with additional money available as they advance through the playoffs.)
“It’s not about the NBA,” Maggette said Saturday. “My NBA career is over, and I accepted that. It’s more about what we can do to stay in shape. For me, it’s more about staying in shape and still being with those guys that I’ve known my whole career … for me in particular, I work out all the time, but it’s different from basketball shape.”
That’s not an idle statement from a retired player. The recent deaths of so many ex-players -- Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Sean Rooks, Jack Haley and Anthony Mason among the many in the last few years -- has many former players reconsidering their lifestyles once they’re done playing. Staying active is a bigger deal than ever.
Maggette does studio work for the LA Clippers, and he took part in the league office’s workshops for recently retired players. But there’s nothing to scratch that ultra-competitive itch of a professional athlete.
“Because you don’t get those competitive juices no more,” Maggette said. “Doing TV is great, and working in the league office has been great. It’s been a great transition. But I think this is fun. And I think a lot of those guys, I play with them on Saturdays out here in L.A. And I know Cube really well. And I think he’s doing a great job of starting something new, fresh. And the biggest thing is, it’s three on three. So you’re not up and down the court.”
That was a worry for those who remember the carnage of the final years of the Old Timers’ games that the NBA used to put on during All-Star weekend in the 1980s and ‘90s. After several players in consecutive years had blown out ACLs and Achilles’ trying to go 94 feet, the NBA quietly shelved the contest, replacing it with individual skills competitions and shooting contests involving current players in the NBA and WNBA.
The BIG3 will tweak some of the normal rules of basketball, whether played inside or outside. There will be a “4-Point Circle” on or past which you’ll get a four points for making a shot. Players will not foul out of games as all fouls will be team fouls (rather than personal fouls). Teams get to the bonus in each half after a fifth team foul on the opponent; a team in the bonus will get two free throws plus possession on every subsequent foul. The first team to 60 points wins the game, but it has to be leading by at least four points. (Halftime will commence once a team scores 30 points.) There will also be halftime acts every week, with Ice Cube and Kwatinetz tapping into their vast contact lists and networks.
“Five-on-five, that’s a young man’s sport,” Mason said. “The NBA is a young man’s sport. But when you’re talking about half-court basketball, that’s a completely different game. It’s a different skill level. And I think we’re going to capitalize on the fact that you’ve got to be skilled, you’ve got to know the game. If you really break down what the NBA is, it’s really about the three-on-three anyway, with those other guys being spot shooters.”
The idea had many fathers.
Mason says he was looking for potential alternative programming a few years ago when he first spoke with Kwatinetz.
“We had just had a lockout,” Mason said. “I was like, if we had a lockout again, we should have a three-on-three tournament for current players. My idea was a little bit different from what they had talked about, but we had talked about three-on-three nonetheless, two or three years ago. I think Cube cracked the code with the concept of 10 weeks, 10 cities, no regional teams, which is brilliant. Because it’s like the show only comes to your city once a year. If you’re in D.C., you buy a ticket, you got a chance to see four basketball games and 40 of your favorite players.”
"This is the new thing. Every year there’s new players that still have some gas still in the tank."
Ice Cube was a famed Raiders fan, but had been a regular at the Entertainer’s League in L.A., a basketball league with singers, actors and other performers that ran for several years. But the idea of seeing former NBA players back in action was a different kick altogether.
“We grew up watching these guys,” Ice Cube said at last week’s official launch in New York. “Some of them from high school, college, through the pros. We’ve seen their ups and downs. We seen them win games, we seen them lose games. They become part of our everyday life in a lot of ways. Then we look up one day and they’re gone. They’re nowhere to be seen … it’s like losing a family friend or a loved one, best friend, someone that you really admire.”
The new league hopes to tap into the worldwide growth of and interest in three-on-three basketball. Three-on-three has already been approved to be played in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, with the hope of the game being approved for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Mason played 10 years in the NBA, most notably with the San Antonio Spurs for two seasons. But he had no interest in playing in the new league. He went the management route after retiring in 2014, rising to deputy executive director of the National Basketball Players Association under the union’s new Executive Director, Michele Roberts.
Mason has been a visible face at arenas around the league the past few years, taking players’ concerns and questions back to the home office. He also made hires, as Roberts worked to build up the union’s infrastructure in several different areas. He worked with corporate sponsors. So when BIG3 started getting fleshed out, Mason wanted to be a part of it -- but with some skin in the game.
“The experience that I got in building the NBPA, and the corporate environment that I lived in the last two years, with all those daggone lawyers I was with, as well as being on the Competition Committee and understanding what TV wants as far as the game flow, all of those things, it put me in an unbelievable position to say, ‘look, man, I can run the league,’ ” Mason said. “I’ve got experience now, with these media deals. When it came up, I said I made a commitment to get through the CBA (negotiations). But once I’m done with it, I would love to be a part of it, and be one of the partners.”
Mason, Cube and Kwatinetz are betting that there is no end to the American appetite for basketball. Others have made successful similar gambles in recent years. Agent Warren LeGarie built the Las Vegas Summer League into the premier offseason NBA event, and actor/entrepreneur Jon Mugar has built The Basketball Tournament, a five-on-five, full-court event, with teams sponsored by fans and college alums, and with its $1 million winning team take all format, into an ESPN staple.
And it’s always hard to beat star power, whether it’s a famed award-winning rapper or “The Answer.”
“This (bleep) isn’t any kind of gimmick,” Mason said. “JO was like, there’s nobody who can guard me in halfcourt. Gilbert Arenas is in the gym every day; he doesn’t even want anybody to know he’s playing … this is going to last beyond Cube, me, Jeff. This is the new thing. Every year there’s new players that still have some gas still in the tank. Maybe they can’t play back to backs. Maybe they can’t do the full wear and tear of an 82-game season. But it’s not like, after 10 to 12 years in the NBA, that their fans forget about them. And it’s not like their game goes to (bleep). They don’t have the athleticism. But in a halfcourt game, one game a week? They still have something to offer. We’re just the landing spot for those guys.”
… YOU WRITE IN, DA ANSWERS ...
Dream? This Question is a Nightmare! From Mindaugas Jancis:
In your previous Morning Tip you wrote about Hakeem Olajuwon's championship Rockets and their "game morphing into today’s, with Harden orchestrating instead of the Dream". If your goal was to win NBA championship with Rockets this year, would you swap Harden for Olajuwon? Or to rephrase it in more general terms: is a center that draws double teams and can pass well less valuable than a guard that draws double teams, can pass well and shoot the three?
Because you specified “this year,” I will take a deep breath and go with Harden over Hakeem. It’s not that anyone could stop the Dream Shake, but the league at least gives defenders some leeway down low (hand-checks are allowed in the lower defensive box if the offensive player has his back to the defender) that players out front don’t have. It’s just about impossible, today, to guard players like Harden, and as he’s one of the best players in the league right now, that makes him more impactful than Hakeem would have been on the box today. I take no pleasure in typing these words, but you asked what you asked.
When the Bat Signal isn’t enough for Gotham’s Safety. From Kieran Sullivan:
I've seen countless discussions of what the Knicks should do, especially after this recent rough patch. Tank, rebuild, try to make the playoffs are all discussed, but a lot of people don't present an actual plan to do so. If Phil and co. decide this core isn't going to work and he looks to try to move some of these for assets, how many pieces can he reasonably expect to move by the trade deadline?
I can't see the Knicks being able to move more than 1-2 pieces before the deadline and I can't see this team being good enough to make it past the No. 7 or 8 seed or bad enough to be in the middle of the lottery. I'm failing to see where the Knicks can go from this roster in the next year. I don't think you can add on enough pieces to make it competitive, and I don't think Phil Jackson/Jim Dolan has the willingness to force Melo's hand prior to the 2018 summer.
The Knicks are stuck, as I see it, Kieran. They have too much talent for a full tank job, but not enough to be a real contender in the East. So their options are indeed limited. I’ve been asked about the Knicks trading ‘Melo before, and I still can’t see it. (No, I’m not moved by Phil Jackson’s confidant, Charley Rosen, writing a piece for FanRag over the weekend http://www.fanragsports.com/nba/knicks/rosen-whats-going-stumbling-knicks/ in which Rosen/Jackson suggest that Anthony might be willing to go to the likes of Toronto or Atlanta. Wishful thinking. The only place for which I believe ‘Melo would waive the no-trade clause in his deal for is Cleveland, and unless the Cavs were sending LeBron or Kyrie Irving back, any trade with Cleveland would be nonsensical for New York.) The question is, what is the Knicks’ ceiling with Carmelo remaining their bell cow offensively? The only thing I can see that might -- might -- have some impact is to go all in with the unicorn as a stretch five. Put Kristaps Porzingis at center, ‘Melo at four, Mindaugas Kuzminskas (37.5 percent shooting on 3-pointers) at the three and see what happens for a couple of weeks. That would be one of the worst defensive frontcourts in the league, but it would be fun as hell at the other end.
I Regret the Error(s). From Drew Silverman:
Who are 3 players that you can admit, in hindsight, you were wrong about? Let's say players who you thought were going to be NBA disappointments and they turned out to be very good players. Be honest, DA!
Historically, I’ve been wrong about dozens of guys, I’m sure. Thought Kwame Brown would be a very good power forward and a lynchpin in Washington; we all saw how that turned out. Didn’t think Bobby Sura would have much of an NBA career; he played a decade -- and, in today’s game, he’d be a star. I knew Kevin Garnett would be good because he played so hard and had so much length, but I didn’t think he had a position and I didn’t think he’d hold up physically. So he invented his own position and played two decades.
Today? I didn’t think Russell Westbrook could play the point in the pros, and I wondered if he was too streaky a shooter to play off guard consistently. And nobody knew Stephen Curry was going to do what he’s been able to do -- too small, too slight, gets hurt all the time. (There’s a Tweet of mine extolling the virtues of the Wolves taking Jonny Flynn; no point in my lying about it.) You do this long enough, you whiff on a whole bunch of folks. But: I had Steve Nash being a star in the NBA when he was at Santa Clara. Documented. At least I hope it’s documented somewhere.
Send your questions, comments and other places where people think the laws of physics have somehow been suspended firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)
1) Russell Westbrook (25.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 12 apg, .407 FG, .833 FT): Great tidbit via The Oklahoman’s Erik Horne: Westbrook’s triple-double average has been bolstered greatly by the much larger number of opponent missed free throw rebounds he’s getting this season. Last season through 41 games, Westbrook had 10 rebounds via missed free throws, according to Horne. He has 55 through 41 games this season. Of those 55, 89.1 percent have been uncontested. Normally, the third defensive player on the free throw line is responsible for making sure the free throw shooter doesn’t rebound his own miss; Westbrook often pays the shooter no mind and just goes and gets the ball. One supposes as long as he gets it, it’s fine.
2) James Harden (30.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 10.5 apg, .440 FG, .854 FT): Just the 10th player in league history to have at least 12 triple doubles in one season after going for 22, 11 and 11 against the Nets Sunday.
3) LeBron James (21.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 8 apg, .477 FG, .895 FT): Goes retro with the re-release of his first shoe for/with Nike last week.
4) Kevin Durant (26.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.5 apg, .556 FG, 1.000 FT): Held without an assist in the Warriors’ win over the Heat last week, the first time in 107 games played dating back to early in the 2015-16 season that KD had no dimes in a game.
5) Kawhi Leonard (33 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, .653 FG, .848 FT): Career-high 38 points in the Spurs’ loss Saturday to Phoenix marked the 11th time this season Leonard has gone for 30 or more points -- something he’d done just four times in his first five seasons combined.
BY THE NUMBERS
6 -- Consecutive losses by LeBron James’ teams in Salt Lake City. Last Tuesday’s 100-92 Utah victory over Cleveland extended a rare losing streak for James. The Cavs have lost all three games in Utah since James’ return to Cleveland in 2014, and James’s Heat teams lost their last three games in Utah when he played there. LeBron’s last win in Salt Lake City came with the Heat on Dec. 8, 2010.
40 -- Margin of victory by San Antonio over the Lakers last week, the biggest in the history of the series between the two teams. The Spurs have beaten Los Angeles seven straight times dating back to December, 2014.
18 -- Years since the Wizards have won 11 straight games at home, a streak Washington reached with a win at Verizon Center Saturday over the 76ers -- the longest win streak ever in that building. Washington last won 15 straight between February and April of 1989, when they were known as the Bullets and they played in Capital Centre in suburban Maryland. (That streak sounds familiar. Hey, wait a minute…)
I’M FEELIN’ …
1) A few words this morning about the impending end of the Obama Presidency. (You are free to move down to item No. 2 if you like, or to click onto something else if you are so moved, or to leave this site entirely. I do not ask that you agree with me or even agree to keep reading. But this is my column and I will write about what I want to write about. I do not stick to sports. When and if you have a column, you are free to do the same.)
I never believed in 2008 that this nation would elect a person of color to be President of the United States. I thought the sickness of racism was so ingrained in the American psyche that it would take several more years -- maybe decades -- before enough people could see past a person’s skin color to vote for them for the biggest job in the world. I was wrong. And it doesn’t matter to me if a lot of those people did so more to prove to themselves that they weren’t racist or prejudiced than because they really believed Barack Obama was the better candidate.
They pulled the lever for a black man, after black men and women had been subjugated to the worst kind of hatreds and treatment in this country for the better part of 400 years. And that meant something. It was a seminal moment in this nation’s history; America was a different place after Nov. 4, 2008 than it was before. Of course we were not “post-racial;” we never will be. Anyone who claims to be color blind is lying -- to themselves as much as to you or me. But we took a big step forward that day. The last eight years have shown how vast a distance we still must travel.
His presidency ends on Friday. And the net positives of his last eight years in office, in my opinion, far outweigh the negatives. As a black man, I am proud of how he comported himself and what he achieved while doing the most difficult job in the world.
2) If DeMarcus Cousins believes in Sacramento enough to sign a long-term extension next summer, the Kings have to repay that trust by putting a team around him that makes sense. That means: shooters. And more shooters. And still more shooters. It means taking Omri Casspi out of mothballs and playing him. It means moving Rudy Gay before the deadline for -- right -- a shooter, and it means using the 2017 first-rounder the Kings will keep if they finish in the bottom 10 record-wise (otherwise, it goes to Chicago) on … a shooter.
3) Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are both handling their very uncomfortable bakeoff in Philly well. After initially expressing his displeasure at his limited playing time, Noel has taken his criticisms in house. Okafor did the same after getting three straight DNP-CDs earlier this month. But word is Noel is still the guy being shopped hardest by the 76ers.
4) Slowly, the Timberwolves are picking up what coach Tom Thibodeau is throwing down.
5) I worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer for four years. John Quinn was one of my bosses, a fine editor and newspaperman. But I had no idea such a beautiful writer was in there, too. His account of surviving the heart attack that should have killed him is a masterful work.
1) The Knicks should have suspended Derrick Rose for a game. To not do so further muddied an already murky situation where Rose left the team without contacting anyone to deal with a family situation back in Chicago last Monday. No one -- no one -- would have cared if Rose had simply texted or called Phil Jackson or GM Steve Mills or Coach Jeff Hornacek and said/texted ‘hey, I’ve got an emergency I have to deal with at home and I need to miss the game.’ I suspect Jim Dolan would have arranged for private transportation.
Why Rose opted to make this a story by not doing that is unknowable, but it certainly doesn’t enhance his chances of getting a big deal next summer. In the interim, the reported $200,000 fine -- roughly one game check -- wasn’t enough, to me, to show Rose and his teammates that there is the right way and the wrong way to handle things, even personal emergencies. (Speaking of which: is Jackson ever going to make himself available to speak to the media about this?)
2) True, on all counts. But do you ever notice teams that say they have to stop complaining to the referees never actually stop?
3) It’s all well and good to consider Mexico City for a potential expansion franchise down the road. By all accounts, its Arena Ciudad de Mexico is a first-rate facility, and the benefits of further establishing the Latino market are obvious. But. Seattle First.
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