NEW YORK - Ice Cube wasn't done watching Kobe Bryant play basketball, so he created a new professional league where guys like Kobe Bryant can play basketball.
You can do stuff like that if you're Ice Cube. But if Ice Cube weren't the type of guy to fully dedicate himself to developing his ideas, he'd hardly be Ice Cube at all: Cube could have rested on his NWA laurels and faded into cultural obscurity a quarter-century ago, but instead started his own label and recorded a bunch of platinum-selling solo albums and got into acting and writing for film and ultimately turned himself into the full-blown Hollywood movie star he is today. So the man born O'Shea Jackson, now 47 years old but still operating under the handle he created as a teenager, is all-in on the BIG3, a new 3-on-3 pro basketball league he co-founded with partner Jeff Kwatinetz set to kick off on June 24.
Ice Cube and Kwatinetz had discussed the idea of a professional 3-on-3 half-court circuit in the past, but Bryant's retirement at the end of the 2016 season hastened the efforts. The league will consist of eight teams of five players each, with notable former NBA stars including Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Rashard Lewis - all of whom attended the league's kick-off event in Manhattan on Wednesday - serving as player-coaches and selecting rosters full of their once and future colleagues.
"I had been thinking about this for a minute," Ice Cube said, "but seeing Kobe retire just made me want to kick it into high gear, because I think he's still got game. I started writing notes down, putting concepts and thoughts down.
"This started off as a dream. It sucks to see your favorite players retire. It's a great business opportunity, but as a fan, I'm just excited to see the guys that I know can play at a competitive level, and I'm happy that I have the right type of partners to be able to set the stage for that. We grew up watching these guys. We've seen their ups and downs, we've seen them win games and they become part of our everyday life in some ways. And then we look up, and they're gone. It's like losing a family friend or a loved one. Ice Cube, I've got my heroes, too, and a lot of them play professional basketball."
BIG3 games will take place only once a week, on Saturdays throughout the summer. All four games every week will take place in the same location, with the location changing every week - Kwatinetz mentioned targeting cities like Seattle, no longer served by the NBA, as well as places like New York that could be expected to have an appetite for basketball in the summer months. Games will end whenever the first team reaches 60 points, and will incorporate a trio of 4-point circles beyond the traditional three-point line.
Though all involved stressed the emphasis on fostering competitive basketball, the weekly events will come with an entertainment component, with halftime shows, individualized player introductions, and opportunities for fans to mingle with players.
"It's going to be a party," Kwatinetz said.
Beyond the spectacle, there's an interesting twist: The league will include no team owners, and teams will compete for the largest portion of the players' share of the BIG3's revenue, with the players and coach on the first-place team splitting 30% of the pool. Winnings for the second through eighth-place clubs will also be pursuant to their positions in the standings at the end of the season.
"I think a real milestone in the idea was when we thought of having no owners, and that the players would get in the revenue sharing," Ice Cube said. "I think that was a moment when we thought, 'Yo, this is not only a cool concept, but players can make a lot of money - especially if we built this pot how we know it can grow.' So it just started looking like a great business model, and a great thing to put full effort into."
"Our goal as a brand and my goal in this role will be to form the most player and fan-centric professional sports league," said Roger Mason Jr., a former NBA player turned players union executive now serving as the BIG3's president and commissioner. "The proof is in that payout structure. That was totally Cube and Jeff's concept and idea. I thought it was brilliant - I thought it baked up what they said about this being a player's league."
With Kwatinetz and Mason, Ice Cube played a huge and very hands-on role in developing the league, from determining the rules and payout structure to recruiting its player-coaches.
"Cube is a true icon, but what makes him special is the sincerity and authenticity," Kwatinetz said. "He would never get behind something he doesn't believe in, and that he wouldn't devote tireless efforts to."
"When I got the call, it was a no-brainer," Iverson said. "It's Ice Cube. It's O'Shea. You don't turn that down. That's success looking right into your eyes. I just wanted to be a part of it, and I hope me being a part of it makes it a success, like everything that he's been doing in his life."
Asked about forthcoming projects in music or movies, Cube said his current focus is solely on basketball.
"All I can see is this right now, and making sure that this works," he said. "June 24 will be here quick. I've got my head down. I know other people probably want me to get back into my movies and stuff like that, but this is my baby right now."