The Big3 is coming to Boston at 7 on Friday night, and with it a smattering of notable names from NBA years past.
Former Boston Celtics Nate Robinson, Glen Davis, Brian Scalabrine and others will compete once again on the TD Garden parquet. Players with lofty expectations who never lived up to the hype, such as Kwame Brown and Josh Childress, will be present. Coaches George Gervin and Julius Irving add an element of prestige and nostalgia to the evening’s festivities.
Rapper and actor Ice Cube founded the Big3 in 2017, hoping to provide a basketball haven for those no longer young enough to cut it professionally but remain passionate about the game. He understood that three-on-three is extremely popular in the world of pickup hoops, and he hoped it would translate into a more structured setting with referees and a rule book.
“We see this as a global sport,’’ said Ice Cube in a June conference call preceding Week 1 of the 2018 Big3 season in Houston. “Three-on-three basketball is actually the most played form of team basketball in the world, when you count all the backyards, play-yards, playgrounds, and rec centers, by far.’’
Big3 endured some growing pains in its inaugural season. Many found former Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson to be the main draw, but the former point guard mostly chucked bricks in his first game, then decided it was best to stalk the sidelines as a coach instead. Iverson was replaced by Michael Cooper on the bench of team 3’s Company to begin 2018.
Iverson wasn’t the only one lofting shots as if he was 10 years younger than he actually was. Jim Jackson, a 14-year NBA veteran who now serves as an analyst for the Big3 at Fox Sports, witnessed much one-on-one play in the league’s infancy without much regard for team concepts and overall cohesion.
Things have changed and the Big3 is growing with desires to expand into markets such as China and Brazil. Jackson believes the final five games of 2017 set the tone for this season, which has showcased a brand of basketball more aesthetically pleasing than what fans grew used to in the league’s first weeks.
“I think last year, [in] the last five games, teams, players and coaches really caught on to a rhythm and an understanding of how to really game plan offensively and defensively for three-on-three,’’ said Jackson.
“Now the understanding is at a higher level, the strategy behind how to use the pick-and-roll, how to use one side of the court, how to isolate a certain player on a mismatch, coaches understanding when to sub in, how to use your timeouts, all these strategy ideas.’’
The Big3 is comprised of eight teams, each with six players on its roster. Play is only conducted on one half of the court, with 4-point zones interspersed between half court and the three-point line. First one to 50 takes the cake, win by two.
After losing in the Big3’s first ever championship game to team Trilogy, the 3 Headed Monsters team is undefeated through six games in 2018. Captain and reigning league MVP Rashard Lewis injured his knee in Week 3, but the train has continued to roll behind coach Gary Payton and a few key contributors.
“I was wondering what was going to happen once Rashard went down,’’ Jackson said. “This team [could’ve] fallen backwards, but they didn’t. Jamario Moon has played a significant role. Reggie Evans has rounded out his offensive game. My dude Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is playing excellent basketball.’’
While Trilogy has cratered under coach Rick Mahorn and captain Kenyon Martin, sitting at 1-5 in the Big3 basement, the Power team has ascended to second place behind key offseason coaching addition Nancy Lieberman. Captain Corey Maggette and a squad that includes Cuttino Mobley, Quentin Richardson, and Glen Davis enters the Boston showcase at 5-1.
“Nancy Lieberman, her calmness, I think the way she approaches the game, her mindset, how she communicates with her team, gives them an added dimension that I think other teams don’t have,’’ said Jackson. “I think [they] play the best brand.’’
3 Headed Monsters and Power teams will face off in the third of four contests Friday. The first game between Trilogy and Ball Hogs will stream on Facebook Live at 7. The rest of the action will begin at 8 on Fox Sports 1.
Here’s the full Friday evening slate:
Game 1: Trilogy vs. Ball Hogs
Game 2: Killer 3’s vs. Tri State
Game 3: 3 Headed Monsters vs. Power
Game 4: 3’s Company vs. Ghost Ballers