Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and former Miami Heat guard Jason Williams are among the ex-NBA players coming out of retirement to compete in a new three-on-three league founded by rapper-actor Ice Cube that will feature a half-court setup and a four-point shot.
Play in the eight-team BIG3 league commences this summer with the idea that the fast-flowing, freelancing format drawing on the creativity of the playground game will appeal to a younger generation of fans.
“When I got the call it was a no-brainer -- it’s Ice Cube and you don’t turn that down,” Iverson said during a New York news conference. “That’s success looking you right into your eyes. I just hope little kids just get a chance to embrace it and love it for what it is.”
Former Heat players “White Chocolate” Williams -- known for his dribbling and passing wizardry -- Rashard Lewis, Mike Bibby and Jermaine O’Neal have committed to the league, as have Kenyon Martin, Stephen Jackson and Bonzi Wells. Hall of Famer Payton, who played on the Heat’s 2006 championship team with Williams, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, will be a coach, as will George “Iceman” Gervin.
The retirement of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett prompted Cube to think of a venue where basketball stars could continue performing while reducing the wear and tear of a full-court, 82-game season on their aging bodies.
"It sucks to see your favorite players retire. There's nothing good about it, especially when you know they still got game," he said. “My father always told me if you don't think big, you will always be small. So, we came up with a big idea. It was to bring a style of basketball that I grew up playing, watching, and loving, which is three-on-three basketball.”
Ex-pros over age 30 will fill the five-man rosters. First team to 60 points wins. Shots made from three large circles placed beyond the three-point line will count for four points. A draft will be held in March. Games will be played on Saturdays from June 24 through Aug. 12 in a variety of cities. Former NBA players union deputy director Roger Mason is the league’s commissioner. Players will earn 52 percent of league revenue.
Cube said he’s lobbying to get Bryant to join.
“I was the ultimate Kobe fan from day one, when he was coming off the bench for [former Lakers coach] Del Harris," he said Cube. “I would love Vince Carter and the guys that are about to get out -- Paul Pierce, T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] -- to look at us as a viable option to continue to have that stage because these dudes are not commentators -- they’re basketball players. Let’s get them back on the court."
Iverson, 41, aka “The Answer,” said he’s excited to be a player-coach.
“This isn’t the only time we’re going to do it,” said the 2001 NBA MVP. “It’s going to be part of our culture.”
Lewis said the league concept revived childhood memories.
“Growing up, you don’t jump right into five-on-five basketball,” he said. “You go to the backyard and play with your friends two-on-two, three-on-three, or however many you have out there.”
Said former Nets All-Star Martin: "It was just an opportunity to do something different. It's something innovative. Not a lot of guys can say they're the first to do something."
Asked if he’d perform at the games -- which will include a seven-minute halftime -- Cube said maybe.
“It matters if I’m feeling it, but I don’t want this league to be about me,” Cube told Billboard magazine. “I’ll do everything I can to promote the league, to get it on its feet, and get it rolling. I just want to stay to the back and let these guys do what they do best.”