By Cameron Lee
July 3, 2017
Over 10,000 fans casually funneled into Spectrum Center on a Sunday afternoon to witness the highly publicized Big 3 Basketball Tour. Mitchell & Ness throwback jerseys, high fashion, rare kicks, and Allen Iverson gear adorned the attendees. Many of the ticket buyers and media probably had the same preconceived expectation of the event: This is a traveling celebrity basketball spectacle rather than a premium athletic competition with public fanfare.
If the nostalgic golden era hip-hop vibes, Hall of Fame NBA legends, celebrity appearances and a cool atmosphere was your main intention for attending the event, you were definitely in for a treat. There was also competitive basketball being played, but not the type you’re accustomed to watching on NBA on NBC. No one likes to see their favorite former pro athletes and musicians aging right in front of their eyes, but the Big 3 experience allows you to recall some great memories and relive some past glories at a much slower pace. While wandering courtside, hallways, and media rooms, you could hear chatter about how cool it was to see Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, George “The Iceman” Gervin, Gary Payton and the legendary Julius “Dr. J” Erving. Fathers connected with their children and pointed out former NBA stars and celebrities like LL Cool J (who once owned a home in Piper Glen in South Charlotte).
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The Big 3 was founded by hip-hop icon and movie star, Ice Cube, and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz. Both Cube and Kwatinetz now sit on a prospective gold mine; the IOC (International Olympic Committee) recently revealed they have approved a 3-on-3 tournament in the 2020 Summer Olympics. Although it’s hard to predict how that can ultimately affect the Big 3, there is no doubt it will bring more attention to the platform. The rules are likely to be tweaked over time to improve watchability and maximize TV and digital media exposure with their current broadcast partners at Fox Sports 1. This is expected for an upstart sport league. They’ve already changed the winning points total from 60 to 50 after the inaugural first week in Brooklyn.
But don’t underestimate the competitiveness of Big 3 basketball– this is not rec league ball at the YMCA. The referees are extremely liberal and contact in the paint can be very physical at times; blatant pushes and hacks left former NBA lottery picks hitting the floor pretty hard. These guys still really want to win, and it showed through their glaring stares at opposing players and aggressive hand-checking. Watching former NBA stars like Michael Bibby, Al Harrington, Chauncey Billups, Rashard Lewis, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and Allen Iverson still offers a lot of entertainment value.
It’s a bit of a spiritual experience when you are sitting courtside and observing so many legends all in one place gathering over one thing: basketball. When Julius “Dr. J” Erving “Rocked The Baby” in the classic game against the Lakers in 1983, a hip-hop movement was budding in Hollis, Queens, New York with LL Cool J, Russell Simmons, and Rick Rubin. In 1995, when NBA Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets on his quest to win his first championship, Ice Cube was flourishing as a solo artist after the break-up of the controversial rap group, N.W.A. Oshea Jackson’s (Ice Cube) film career was also in full bloom as John Singleton’s follow-up to Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning, introduced a young Tyra Banks and Michael Rapaport (Big 3 celebrity sideline reporter) to the big screen in Cube’s 5th motion picture appearance.
Also in attendance were former Carolina Panther and NFL great, Steve Smith, Charlotte Hornets All-Star Kemba Walker, former Tar Heel Kennedy Meeks, and Grammy Award-winning recording artist and Charlotte native Anthony Hamilton. DJ Skee kept the vibes official with solid hip-hop bangers spanning from the ‘90s to the more current sounds of Kendrick Lamar and Migos. He payed tribute to the late great Prodigy of Mobb Deep with an extended play of The Alchemist beat “Keep it Thoro” from Prodigy’s first solo album H.N.I.C. Anthony Hamilton graced the hardwood with a special performance between breaks to dazzle the already enamored audience.
There’s no question who the biggest draw is for this touring basketball and celebrity spectacle: “The Answer,” Allen Iverson. During his introduction and entrance for the final game of the day, the excitement was apparent as the noise reached a pinnacle like the main event at a prize fight. Although his playing time was cut short due to a knee bruise he suffered during the game, the Hall of Famer and cultural icon seems to have a calmness about his place in basketball history. He had some advice for this year’s NBA rookie class during the post game press conference: “Find out who your friends are in the beginning and don’t be afraid to say no…Understand and realize that basketball will not last forever.” When asked about his relationship with Kobe Bryant, who recently admitted he obsessed over beating Iverson, he said: “When you are in our profession, it’s like a singer out there that’s talented that you respect, like Michael Jackson or Prince, both of them, I knew they made each other better… I brought the best out of Kobe and he brought the best out of me.” This seems to be a fitting farewell tour for Iverson, whose NBA career ended abruptly with several different teams with no true sendoff into the basketball legend sunset.
While many of the players in the Big 3 are past their prime, there’s no telling what the future has in store for this league, especially after being legitimized by the International Olympic Committee. One thing is for sure, pro sports have always been about entertainment value and the family experience. If you love basketball, nostalgia, hip-hop, and celebrity allure, the Big 3 is definitely worth seeing in person.