When the BIG3 basketball league was first announced in January, not many people knew what to make of it. The concept itself seemed pretty cool. Organized by legendary rapper Ice Cube, there are no team owners, players get a 52 percent cut of all revenues during the regular season (roughly $100K per player for the summer), with an even bigger share going to the players on the championship winning team. But the biggest question surrounding the BIG3 was this: Who’s going to actually play?
Slowly, the names started trickling in. Mike Bibby, Chauncey Billups, Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, Stephen Jackson, Rashard Lewis, a nice mix of former All-Stars and key starters for some good teams. Then Allen Iverson. Wait… What?! Who?!
When the news started to spread that “The Answer”—one of the most beloved NBA players of all time, a Hall of Famer, a one-time MVP, pound-for-pound greatest little man ever and cultural icon—had committed to being a player/coach in the summer basketball event, fan interest immediately piqued and the BIG3 suddenly seemed a whole lot bigger.
The fifth week in the 10-week league featured a stop in Chicago and Allen Iverson sat down with HOOP to talk about 3-on-3 basketball, the league itself, his own play and if the BIG3 is here to stay or not.
Every weekend you’re traveling around the country, playing in a different city. How does it feel still getting the love that you do from fans after all these years?
It’s the best. It just lets you know that the whole time I was playing in the NBA, the love wasn’t fake. I have some really loyal fans out there and obviously, from these different trips on the tour, you can see that they still support me.
You’re in Chicago, a place where fans have always shown you love, either on the court or out in the streets. In your opinion, what’s great about Chicago and its love affair with the game?
Chicago is a basketball city. Obviously, the quality of talent that has come out of here over the years, you can see how seriously people here take, not just basketball, but sports in general.
What made you want to get involved and play initially?
The whole thing with me was I had been out for seven years and I thought I could come back, go in the phone booth and come out as Superman. And I know that sounds crazy, but I just believe in myself like that. But a couple weeks into it, I was like man, these guys are in a way different place than I am; I can’t compete with these guys. And I knew that, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I had my time. The way I look at it now, these guys are just getting back at me for what I used to do to them all those years.
You haven’t played in the BIG3 the last two weeks, but you’ve been coaching and on the sidelines. We can hear you talking to opposing players and giving guys on your own team instructions. Even though you haven’t been on the court, how competitive does it get for you out there?
It’s sports, so it’s very competitive and I want to see my team win. Unfortunately, I’m not physically able to go out there every weekend and play on the basketball court, but I’m just giving my knowledge to those guys and the things I did when I played and try and help them use it to their advantage. I feel like I can help anybody when it comes to basketball. I know the game inside an out. I’m in the Hall of Fame, so I was doing something right out there.
We see you standing down there talking trash to guys and getting in the refs faces as a coach. Is coaching something you ever saw yourself doing?
[laughs] No. Well, maybe younger guys. I don’t think I have the patience coaching millionaires and managing all those egos. You think about it, at the NBA level, it takes a great coach to take all those egos, put them together and get everyone to buy into one common goal. To tell guys no ego—leave those at the door, nobody play selfish, we know who the man is, so if that ain’t you, then you just have to play your role and help the team the best way you can—it takes a great person and a real leader to be a coach and I take my hat off to those guys coaching in the NBA right now because that’s a tough job. But for me, if it’s rec league kids, high school kids or college kids, I could do a good job coaching them because they’re going to listen. They have to [laughs].
When you are talking to guys, whether they’re on your team or not, what kind of things do you tell them?
I just try to pass along knowledge. Give them stories and scenarios about different situations that I’ve been in to try and help them in their careers.
How much do you miss playing competitive basketball?
Oh, yeah. But I’m a competitive guy. I want to beat you in basketball. I want to beat you in pool. I want to beat you in Monopoly. I want to beat you in anything I play. So yeah, I definitely miss the competition. I just don’t miss everything that comes with it sometimes.
After five weeks, how much better has the competition and basketball gotten?
It’s crazy, man. These guys aren’t messing around. They’re talking trash, they’re going hard out there and you can see it.
What is it about 3-on-3 basketball that people seem to enjoy—not just fans, but the guys playing in the league as well?
Man, it’s just good basketball. But we grew up like this. You know, sometimes you’ll play 1-on-1, or 2-on-2, or 3-on-3. Not all the time can you get 10 guys to run up and down the court. So, we grew up playing 3-on-3 and all of these guys who’s playing in the BIG3 right now are familiar with this kind of basketball because they did it.
Ice Cube lent his name and legend status to help publicize the BIG3. Every week before the games he’s doing local television and radio interviews to promote the event and get people to come out. What do you think of the job he’s done so far?
Masterful. Cube is doing a masterful job, and you can tell that he’s a genius. For him to have the amount of time that he’s had to plan this whole thing and then get it up and jumping and have sellouts in every city we’ve been to, he’s just done an excellent job.
Even though this is the first summer of the BIG3 and it’s been pretty popular so far, what do you think the future of the league is?
The scary part about the whole thing is that I think the BIG3 is only going to get better. You’ve already got a lot of retired guys who were good in the NBA signing up to play, and everybody is just sitting back and watching how this thing plays out. You’ll look around the court and see a lot of other guys who played in the NBA, coming out to see what this thing is all about because the games are good. They’re very competitive. Plus, you don’t get too much basketball in the summer time, especially not high level like this. So, to have a league like this where guys are coming out every weekend and putting it all on the line, is great for the fans and I’m really happy for them.
How much of an impact do you think watching this kind of basketball will help the younger generation of fans love and appreciate the game?
I definitely think this is going to help kids because these guys play the right way. And some of these guys are still trying to get back in the League, so I’m rooting for them as far as that goes.