Barber: BIG3 basketball brings familiar faces to Bay Area
OAKLAND — It was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s 3-point shot that delivered a victory for the 3-Headed Monsters over the Killer 3s at Oracle Arena on Friday. Can you guess the magic number? Yeah, it was three, because the BIG3 came to town for some 3-on-3 basketball.
This is the league co-founded by rapper/actor/producer Ice Cube and his business partner, Jeff Kwatinetz. The event landed like a carnival — “I would use a different word. I would say it’s like a festival,” said BIG3 chairman (her approved word) of the board Amy Trask — with eight teams pairing off for a series of four games. The whole thing moves to Detroit next Friday.
It’s an interesting concept — a familiar sport, but played on only half a court. It’s a throwback to the days of pickup basketball but also, perhaps, a look to the future. It offers star power alongside gimmickry.
In honor of the BIG3’s appearance in Oakland, I have three big questions about the organization.
1. Is it entertaining?
You bet. Players like Baron Davis and Chauncey Billups still know how to put on a show. The league’s eight coaches are hand-picked for intrigue and marquee appeal: Gary Payton, Julius Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin, Charles Oakley, Michael Cooper, Rick Mahorn and Nancy Lieberman. The halftime entertainment included mini-sets by Bay Area legends Too Short and E-40. When someone blocked a shot, the words “Get that outta here!” would burst from the PA system.
Not content to adopt the 3-point line, the BIG3 features 4-point circles in deep Steph Curry territory. The pace is fast. After a made basket, the ball goes immediately to the top of the key for the next possession. (Losers’ outs, if you’re wondering.)
The players, removed from the grind of the NBA, are relaxed — for better or worse. After Tri-State’s big win over Power, I asked Nate Robinson and Amar’e Stoudemire if the competition level of the BIG3 was what they expected. Stoudemire hadn’t paid attention to the question. When Robinson repeated it to him, Stoudemire leaned away from the microphone so that his voice became a whisper, shrugged and said, “Give or take.”
A moment later, he got up and left the podium as Robinson answered another question.
But Robinson, the diminutive guard who played for eight teams over 11 NBA seasons, was highly entertaining. And so was Baron Davis.
“When you leave the game, you sort of develop amnesia. It’s heartbreaking,” Davis said. “But to have something like the BIG3 for guys like us who still love the game and still can play at a high level, it definitely gives us something to kind of fill that void.”
2. Is it good basketball?
You know what? It’s not bad.
“Way better than I thought it was gonna be when I joined last year,” said Warriors legend Barry, who is coaching the Ball Hogs. “I was very skeptical, as most people were.”
“Everyone was like, ‘It’ll be a clown show,’” is how Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal put it.
You might expect that, too, when you hear that the guy who hit the final game-winning shot Friday, Abdul-Rauf, is 49 years old. The term “graybeard” is not metaphorical here, and it isn’t just Abdul-Rauf. Power guard Cuttino Mobley is just 42, but he looks like Uncle Drew. Billups of the Killer 3s and Bonzi Wells of Tri-State are 41.