This article originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
Frisco, Texas — Legendary rapper and filmmaker Ice Cube is heating up North Texas’ basketball scene once again by bringing his league’s unique FIREBALL3 rules to Frisco. July 2 and 3 marked the first of six weekend’s worth of exciting BIG3 games at the Comerica Center, the home of the Dallas Mavericks’ G League team the Texas Legends. Just what is the BIG3 and FIREBALL3 though, and is it fun to watch?
What is the BIG3?
The BIG3 is a professional 3-on-3 basketball league founded by Ice Cube and entertainment industry executive Jeff Kwatinetz in 2017. The league has become something of a haven for former NBA players looking to extend their careers like 7-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson and 2007 Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa among others. In fact, the league originally included a now-lowered 27-year-old age requirement in what appeared to be an attempt to attract more ex-NBA talent.
Beyond just the stars actually shooting the ball, the BIG3 has also attracted a number of basketball greats to coach its 12 different teams. Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie, Rick Barry and Nancy Lieberman account for just some of the legends who head these squads with inventive team names like the Ball Hogs, Ghost Ballers and Aliens.
What makes the BIG3 unique?
The BIG3’s ruleset presents a stark difference to the NBA or NCAA basketball rules fans are familiar with, even beyond the change in the number of players on the court. For starters, the BIG3 plays each game on a half-court with the winning team determined by whoever reaches 50 points first while still leading their opposition by two or more points. When combined with a 14 second shot clock, the BIG3 clearly strives to create high-paced games that more frequently reach nail-biting endings considering every matchup ends with a game-winning shot no matter what.
Beyond that, the BIG3 also added a 4-point shot via three circles placed outside of the league’s 3-point line. With some fans already lamenting the occasionally excessive use of 3-pointers in the NBA, a 4-point shot may naturally raise eyebrows. There’s no denying that the high-valued scoring opportunity leaves the door open for games that are closer than the box score may make them appear, however. With NBA teams like the Houston Rockets already practicing with a 4-point line too, there’s always the possibility that the rule represents a glimpse into pro basketball’s future as a whole.
Those are just a few of the BIG3’s biggest rule changes. Starting in 2020, the league adopted its FIREBALL3 rules which also added competitive foul challenges settled by a single 1-on-1 basket along with an open call for any and all players to try out for the league.
What’s the experience like at a BIG3 Game?
As anyone who’s followed any number of the alternative football leagues that have floundered in the past decade, and flopped more often than not, fancy rule changes can only go so far. At the end of the day, everything comes down to the quality of the games themselves.
Based on attending the first slate of games in Frisco on July 2, it feels like the BIG3 is perhaps the premier upstart sports league in the country in that regard.
Starting with the first game, contested between the Power and the Enemies, the benefits of the BIG3’s unique rules were readily apparent. The half court 3-on-3 format not only led to quicker baskets, but more physical defense as there were no easy transition buckets and much more contested shots at the rim.
Plano West graduate TJ Cline, who played under the coaching of his mother Nancy Lieberman on the Power, was a standout in the opening game. He seemed to ricochet around the court, draining a trio of open 3-pointers along the way to a team-leading 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Cline wasn’t alone with his energetic effort either. Each of the teams seemed fully engaged in the action for the entire game’s length, something which was a concern with the league’s initial rules and attempts to court notoriously practice-adverse stars like Allen Iverson into full-effort playing roles.
Ultimately, three double-digit scoring efforts on the Enemies, including a matching 17 points from team captain Nick Young, led the enemies to a 50-39 win.
The following game was unfortunately a bit of a blowout, with the Jason Richardson captained Tri-State dominating the Killer 3’s in a 50-38 win that never felt nearly as close as the prior game did despite the similar box scores.
Fan energy waned a bit at times during this game, something which was a bit more noticeable than it is at NBA games due to the relatively low attendance. The BIG3’s first games back in the DFW area since 2019 did not seem to fill the stands, even with a large number of seats tarped off.
Nonetheless, considering each of the trio of games lasted just under an hour, the BIG3 didn’t force the fans who did attend to suffer through a largely one-sided affair for long. In what’s perhaps the league’s biggest success thus far, the BIG3 essentially eliminated any downtime whatsoever from the fan experience. The only major intermissions were during a brief shootaround before each game and a short halftime when the first team reached 25 points, the last of which even featured a live performance from Texas-based rapper Z-Ro.
Essentially, that means the fans could see a broad range of basketball talent with just a single ticket without feeling bored or tired waiting for the action to resume during or between games.
Speaking of talent, the last game of the day featured arguably two of the league’s biggest stars, the aforementioned Joe Johnson of Trilogy and Leandro Barbosa of the Ball Hogs. Both stars showed up as well with Johnson putting up 30 points to Barbosa’s 24.
The music during the game seemed to shake the stadium as Trilogy fought back from a deficit to tie the game 48-48. Immediately after the tie, fans rose to their feet to see Barbosa split the Trilogy defense to drain a go-ahead lay-up to win the game for the Ball Hogs in thrilling fashion.
After the last shot fell, it was clear each of the three games showed a different side of the BIG3 and its unique brand of basketball, even if not all of them were the most exciting. More importantly for the league, it felt as though its brand of basketball really captured something that’s worthy of the attention of basketball fans in the process. In other words, the BIG3 appears to be living up to its catchphrase, “We’re Changing the Game.”
The BIG3 will be at the Comerica Center through August 7 with general admission tickets starting at just over $24. For more information about the league, including how to watch games on TV or streaming, visit https://big3.com/.