- With two seasons in the books, the BIG3's top brass look back on the league's success and contemplate its future. Ice Cube, Nancy Lieberman, Clyde Drexler and more weigh in.
With season two of the BIG3 in the books, the league’s top brass is excitedly looking forward to its third year. The three-on-three basketball league—co-founded by rapper, actor, writer, and producer Ice Cube—has already defied odds to a degree by making it to Year 2. The second season saw Nancy Lieberman, aided by MVP (and former Clipper) Corey Maggette, lead Power to its first championship. (Per league rules the team—also featuring Cuttino Mobley, Quentin Richardson, Big Baby Davis and Birdman Andersen—will remain intact for its title defense next summer.)
In late August, The Crossover caught up up with Cube, commissioner Clyde Drexler, chairwoman Amy Trask, and Lieberman to discuss a range of topics, including their expectations for season two, inclusiveness in the BIG3, and more.
SI: What were your goals for Year 2 of the league?
CUBE: First of all, have great games. Make sure that the games were entertaining, we adjusted some rules to try to ensure that games would end in play and not at the free-throw line. And the next goal was to grow the fan base, in arena and on television. We knew we had some challenges because we were live on the same day we were trying to sell an arena. You could have watched at home. To have people come to the game and watch us on TV let us know we were moving in the right direction.
TRASK: I would add to that, we wanted continued international growth. Our first season we had time to make only three dozen arrangements for games to be broadcast internationally. This year, that grew, we were broadcast in 47 countries around the world.
DREXLER: Growth and improvement. We wanted to do everything a little bit better, a little bit crisper. We wanted to foster a great working environment. Even though everyone works extremely hard, there’s a lot of appreciation for everyone within the BIG3. It’s a family environment. I think the players got better, the officials got better, our run of show—the way the game looks on TV is phenomenal.
SI: Nancy, how did you end up involved in the BIG3? Did the league meet your expectations?
LIEBERMAN: Some things in life happen organically, which is the way it should. The first year they were playing in Dallas and Rick Barry called me and said he had a couple tickets for me and my son, T.J. And then he called me back five minutes later and said, “Hell, why don’t you come and coach with us?” So I go to the game; I’ve lived in Dallas for 38 years, I walked into the arena and was blown away by the energy. It was a melting pot of people. I thought it was amazing. I knew a lot of the guys, but I thought this was a really good level of basketball. It was just a happy group of people. You never know who your next boss is going to be. I remember meeting Ice Cube while he was sitting courtside. And I thought, everybody is so nice and accommodating.
A year later I’m sitting in my house—this is a true story—I’m watching the NCAA game and I’m flipping back and forth between Straight Outta Compton. I couldn’t believe Clyde was calling me and asking if I would be interested in coaching. It was a surreal moment. And I had stepped away from the NBA because my mom had almost died twice in the last three-and-a-half years. I got tired of taking a leave of absence. You want to put your family first at some point. I got blessed by Ice Cube, Amy, and Clyde for asking me to be a part of the league. It’s the single most enjoyable thing that happened in my career. I’ve had a lot of unbelievable moments in my life, I’ve never been happier.
SI: Was it a mission for the league to be more inclusive when it came to women? How did Nancy’s hire come about?
TRASK: I want to jump in, because I don’t believe that either Clyde or Cube will speak of themselves the way they should be spoken of. To the contrary, there was no affirmative decision to say let‘s be inclusive. This league was founded by two men who do what every business leader—and frankly every leader—should do. They hire without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or any other individuality that has no bearing whatsoever on whether someone can do a job. Nancy’s gender was never an issue. When we suggested her as a coach, none of the men brought up her gender. It was not a topic of discussion. And when Clyde contacted the men on that team and told them she would be the coach, not one man on that team brought up her gender.
There was no effort to affirmatively be inclusive. We are inclusive, because that’s the way businesses should be run. Businesses who don’t run this way deserve to fail, because by definition they are eliminating a swath of tremendously qualified individuals. Nancy’s gender has never been a topic for us. I don’t give a damn that she’s a woman. I give a damn that she’s a fantastic head coach—and a championship head coach. The BIG3 hired Nancy for the right reasons.
CUBE: On another note, setting a standard is a great thing. It’s a great hire because Nancy does things the right way, and gets her team to do things the right way. She sets a standard for the league. That’s what we need to do. She has taken the league forward. Our league got better because our championship team set the standard. Our championship team wasn’t a team that didn’t come to practice or a team that would rather do other stuff than work on their game. That team winning is not healthy for the league. By Nancy setting the standard, it ensures that the BIG3 will get better next year.
LIEBERMAN: When I was hired in 2010 by the Mavericks to be the head coach of their D-League team. About six months later, I was asked to go to the White House with my son to meet President Obama. There was a connection immediately because of basketball. One of the things he said which I’ll never forget, which Ice Cube embodies everyday with me in this league. He says, “Nancy, I know I’m black, I just happen to be the president of the United States. It’s normal to me. You just happen to be a white woman coaching predominantly black men. It’s normal for you. It’s our responsibility to make this normal.” To do that, I need someone who’s going to give me an opportunity. This where the BIG3 is so significant. You have to have someone who is willing to be a cultural changer.
SI: Cube, are you still aggressively recruiting players to join the league? What’s your pitch?
CUBE: I am still recruiting. First thing, you have to figure out where their heart is. Do they still want to play, and do they want to play at this level? A lot of guys walk on the BIG3 court and think they can handle it. Then they get a wake-up call. You have to be ready to train and put in the hours. Because the BIG3 is a great place when you’re winning. When you’re not, and you’re used to it, and you’re used to being successful on the basketball court, it can be frustrating.
Next thing you have to figure out, people have to feel who I am as a person. Do I love basketball? Do I love the players? Do I respect the game, or am I this money-grabbing dude who came up with a good idea I’m trying to hustle?
Now the product speaks for itself. You should know if you want to play. But I will recruit. I will text. I will call. I will meet. I will do everything possible to make a player feel comfortable with the process of transitioning to the league. I’ll do it all. If I need to go sit with their parents in the living room or take care of their kid. I’ll do all that stuff.
SI: What are you guys most excited about for next season?
CUBE: To see who picks who in the draft. Which new players are going to join the league. See what new toys we’re going to be able to play with when it comes to our broadcaster. What primetime spot are they going to give us. I can’t wait for Game 1. I can’t wait to actually watch basketball.
DREXLER: We’re all going to be a little shocked and dismayed this weekend when the season is over. We love what we do. We love basketball. We love being a part of it. Cube does everything in the BIG3. If you called the office, he may answer the phone right now.
TRASK: I’m looking forward to seeing what new rabbits we could pull out of our proverbial hats. Working with someone who has been as innovative as Cube his entire life is a treat. We embrace a collaborative approach, our coaches contribute ideas, Clyde has fantastic ideas. We don’t even know what exciting things will come next, but they will work.
LIEBERMAN: Yesterday we had our players on our group text, it was almost a little nostalgia. We miss each other. We miss being around each other. The laughing, the dinners, the camaraderie. I’ll look forward to seeing our players in the offseason. And getting our rings. You guys have to get working on that.
CUBE: [Laughs] Don’t worry about nothing.