The legendary Clyde Drexler breaks down why he’s hyped for the BIG3 league’s third season.
Ice Cube‘s BIG3 professional basketball league tipped off its third season this weekend with games in Detroit and in Indianapolis that were broadcast live on CBS and the CBS Sports Network.
One of the highlights was the debut of seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson. The former Atlanta Hawks shooting guard, the captain of Triplets, led them to a 50-40 victory over Aliens with a 27-point, 16-rebound performance.
Reggie Evans also turned in a monstrous performance as his 3-Headed Monsters squad held off Trilogy with a 51-46 win behind his 22 points and 23 rebounds.
This summer, the BIG3 will visit 18 cities over the course of the 11-week season, with three games played at each venue. The league has also expanded from eight to 12 teams this season, with the new squads Aliens, Bivouac, Enemies, and Triplets now in the mix.
Lisa Leslie, one of the greatest women’s ballers of all-time, is coaching the Triplets, joining Nancy Lieberman as the only female head coaches of professional men’s teams. And earlier this month, the league announced its first All-Star exhibition series in China.
To say that the BIG3 has experienced phenomenal growth during its first two seasons would be a huge understatement. And the horizon looks even bigger and brighter.
We recently caught up with BIG3 Commisioner Clyde Drexler, one of the illest ballers ever – whose impact on the game with the University of Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma, as an individual player with the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets, as well as being a member of the vaunted 1992 Olympic Dream Team still inspires awe – to talk about what the fledgling league has in store for us this summer and beyond.
The Shadow League: As the Commissioner of the BIG3, what are you looking forward to as the league embarks on its third season?
Clyde Drexler: Obviously, we’re very excited because we’ve got a lot of great new players and we’ve expanded with some new teams, so the BIG3 has gotten bigger and better. It was already a great product, and now we’re on CBS in prime time this season, so that’s something that we’re really excited about.
When word got out that Ice Cube was starting this 3-on-3 pro league, many people dismissed the idea and said it wouldn’t last. You started off as a coach in the league before being named Commissioner. How did this opportunity first come across your desk and what made you believe in its potential from the jump?
The co-founders, Jeff Kwatinetz and Ice Cube, called me and said they were thinking about starting up this league called the BIG3. They talked to me about their vision and the kind of players that they wanted. They wanted upscale, high-quality basketball because they felt that some of the guys who’d left the NBA still had a lot to give, along with former players who’d gone overseas.
I thought the idea was brilliant and believed in their vision. I’m a hooper, I love the game of basketball. And let me tell you something, this is the best professional 3-on-3 league in the world, played by former NBA All-Stars and coached by some of the true legends of the game. And these guys have a lot of pride on the line for each and every game. That’s what makes it so compelling.
At what point in your own hoops journey did you realize that you wanted to be involved on the business side of the game?
When I first started playing pro ball I had just turned 21 years old. That’s when I started thinking about, “What’s next? I’m gonna do this for a few years, but afterward, what can I do to set myself up for what I’d like to do next?”
There’s always gonna be a new chapter in your book. So it’s about what are you interested in and what are you passionate about. When I left the NBA, I was the head coach at the University of Houston. I went right into it and enjoyed it for two years, but I didn’t like recruiting. But we raised a lot of money for the program, got things back in order and found someone to keep that rebuilding process going.
After that, I was the Assistant General Manager with the Denver Nuggets under Kiki VanDeWeghe and I’ve been involved with the NBA since the early 2000s. So I’ve long been on the executive side of sports.
As kids, we’d be out at the park playing 3-on-3 some nights til the sun came up. For the uninitiated, what are some of the elements of the 3-on-3 game, in your opinion, that makes it so exciting?
Man, that’s a great question. 3-on-3 is the most played game in the world. Before playing full court 5-on-5, you grew up playing 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3. So 3-on-3 is a natural fit because every basketball player grew up playing it.
Now, to have a professional league, and now that it’s an Olympic sport, you have this elevation of the sport. It makes you wonder why this didn’t happen years ago because there’s certainly been a need for it.
And you guys have a pretty impressive collection of coaches, which I think adds to the luster as well.
Right, we were able to get all of these good players and have them compete and the fans love it, the players love it because it’s very exciting. And we have an incredible collection of coaches with some legendary names like Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Nancy Lieberman, George “The Ice Man” Gervin, Gary Payton, Michael Cooper, Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley, Reggie Theus, Tiny Archibald, and others.
So for folks who have yet to see a BIG3 game, what are they in store for?
The first one to 25 is halftime and the game is 50. So when you go to a BIG3 event, the games go quickly. You’ll see three games and six teams, so you get to watch a great few hours of basketball at the highest level with some of the most skilled players in the world.
We were in the house at Barclays Center last year for the championship and the energy inside the building was bananas! It was so dope to see the legendary Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf get busy.
What you saw was the passion that these guys have. I don’t think they played that hard when they were getting paid millions in the NBA. The games go so quickly so there’s no time to take it easy and gradually get into the flow of the game before turning it up in the fourth quarter. Every possession counts.
The league experienced some phenomenal growth from year 1 to year 2, both in terms of attendance numbers, overall viewership and the quality of players. Now that we’ve tipped the third season, what are you looking forward to in terms of some next growth steps?
We’re working on expanding our footprint globally. That’s already in motion. The integrity of the game is phenomenal. Each team is playing to win a championship. Looking at the big picture, we just want to continue to grow the game.
We’re on CBS, one of the premium sports networks, and that’s really going to help us grow. We’ve added more premium sponsors like Adidas, Toyota and Alex and Ani. Those are the types of things that are going to elevate the BIG3 for many years to come.
What are some of the more compelling stories that folks should be paying attention to during this third season?
There are some great storylines in the league this year. How is Greg Oden Going to look? Royce White didn’t have the career that he wanted in the NBA, but we’ll get to see what type of talent he really is. Royce has a very compelling story with his mental health challenges and advocacy, which is something that he’s very passionate about. It’s nice to see that young man rebound from his struggles and do well.
We’re rooting for him and guys like Lamar Odom. People want to know if he can get his life back together and compete at a high level. Everyone wants to see him succeed. And then you have Gilbert Arenas. He’s been out of the NBA for a few years but he’s still young and I heard that he’s looking really good.
Then you have guys like Jason Terry and Joe Johnson, with people wondering how they will do after closing out their NBA careers. There are so many compelling stories, like how is Lisa Leslie gonna do in her first season as a head coach. With Lisa and Nancy Lieberman, we have two women head coaches in a men’s pro league, and that’s the first time that’s ever happened.
If you love hoops, how can you not love the BIG3? It’s got everything you could have ever wanted. Our game has an edge, it’s fun, and with all the music playing and all of the celebrities, it’s must-watch basketball for the summer.