"It was a no brainer.”
That’s how Allen Iverson described his feelings when he got a phone call from O’Shea Jackson Sr.—better known as Ice Cube—about participating in the BIG3, a new, professional three-on-three basketball league founded by Cube and his business partner of two decades, Jeff Kwatinetz. Iverson will be a player/coach in the eight-team league, which hopes to give fans another chance to see their favorite, recently-retired NBA players hoop it up in a format familiar to anyone who’s played basketball at a local park.
The names attached to the league are already intriguing. In addition to Iverson, players committed to the BIG3 include Chauncey Billups, Stephen Jackson, Jason Williams, Rashard Lewis and Kenyon Martin. Teams of five will be drafted by the player-coaches. The league will run through the summer, with every team in action in a different city for 10 straight Saturdays. The players promise competitive play, as well as a family atmosphere to help sports fans escape the summer doldrums.
The commissioner of the league is Roger Mason Jr., who left his role as the deputy director of the NBPA to spearhead Cube and Kwatinetz’s creation. Mason’s role as commissioner highlights the player-forward focus of the league. There will be no team owners, and revenue will be split according to the final standings.
It’s tough to predict any league like this catching on. As a basketball fan, I love the idea of seeing NBA stars play three-on-three, and I love more the idea of getting one last glimpse at some of my favorite players. (Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James should absolutely form a BIG3 superteam in 2025.)
After the press conference announcing the BIG3 (you can catch up on all the details and rules here), Cube was kind enough to sit down with The Crossover to talk about his love of basketball, throwing alley oops to Hall-of-Famers, and the latest on N.W.A.
Rohan Nadkarni: You mentioned during the press conference that basketball players were your heroes. Who were the guys you looked up to?
Ice Cube: Oh man, it goes back to people like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Dr. J, Michael Jordan, of course. These guys are my favorite players. Kobe Bryant. Shaq.
RN: Who is more excited—basketball players when they meet you? Or you when you meet basketball players?
Cube: I don’t know. I think it’s just mutual love. There’s so much mutual love going back and forth, you can’t tell who’s geeked the most. Some of these guys grew up on my music, I’m older than most of these guys, so it’s cool to get a chance to hear they’ve been supporting me all these years and that I’m one of their favorite artists. The love is mutual.
RN: If someone had told you back in ‘88 when you were making it big you’d get to meet all those guys, what would you have thought?
Cube: Man, I would have thought they were lying. Would have thought they was crazy. How? I still can’t believe that I get a chance to interact with some of my favorite people in the world. It’s one of those things where I feel blessed, lucky. I’m in the right place at the right time.
RN: What’s your favorite interaction you’ve had with a basketball player?
Cube: Oh, man. We were in Japan. Shaq was touring with the Fu-Schnickens. Remember that? Shaq was touring with the Fu-Schnickens and was like, “Y’all wanna go play basketball?” I’m like, “What? Play basketball with Shaq?” We go over to the gym, they have a pro team there. Shaq’s on my team and I’m running point guard. I throw him an alley oop and he dunks it, so I’m like, I’m done, I’m good. There’s no better moment than to be able to ball and ball out. And then I was on a celebrity team with Magic. Playing on a team with Magic? That kind of shit there, I could never get enough of it.
RN: When you’re playing with Shaq or Magic, are you trying to feed them the ball? Or do you want to show them what you can do?
Cube: Show them what I could do! You got to feed them, of course. But you want to show them that yo, you ain’t just a rapper. You could ball too. If I was another foot taller, maybe.
RN: I know you’re a family man now, but did you party with a lot of NBA guys back in the day?
Cube: I didn’t party with too many NBA players. I knew mostly NFL players. I was friends with more NFL players back in the day.
RN: As a Lakers fan, how do you feel about where the team is right now?
Cube: I think the team is great. We started off hot because we were at full strength. We were playing great. But then, a couple injuries to a couple key players made us dip. The Lakers are exactly where we want them to be, a young team showing promise. I think that squad has to learn how to win. And then from there, hopefully a free agent will say 'Yo, I’m the guy to take them over the top.' It’s really all about the squad learning how to win at this point.
RN: I know this really wouldn’t work, but if back in ‘88 Dre filmed you doing something like what D’Angelo Russell did to Nick Young, what would you have done?
Cube: [Laughs] Oh I’d probably beat his ass. We’d have been rolling around after that one. You know, it happens. I look at Nick and say, you almost 30 man and that dude’s 19. You play with a puppy, they’ll lick you on the mouth or bite you on the lip, you know what I mean? Don’t play with puppies.
RN: You guys got back together at Coachella last year and the rumors were swirling about a tour—any update on N.W.A. coming back?
Cube: That’s a Dre thing. Everybody hinges off Dre, because it’s not really N.W.A. tour without Dre. I don’t think he’s feeling that right now. I think he’s spending all his money, well not all of it.
RN: It would be hard for him to spend all of it.
Cube: He’s trying. He’s hanging out. He’s enjoying himself. Maybe we’ll revisit it, but now no.
RN: If Donald Trump asked you to play at his inauguration, what would you say?
Cube: [Laughs] Nah, nah, nah. Never have dinner with the president. [Laughs]