The BIG3 rolled into Charlotte, North Carolina, this past weekend, the second stop on its 10-city caravan, where a crowd that could rival the attendance of most Hornets games dusted off a rainbow of jerseys (including those of Jason Williams, Brian Scalabrine and Dion Glover) to watch their favorite semi-basketball stars of recent years past.
The league is young and still figuring itself out, but it seems to be onto something in hitting a nerve of recent nostalgia. If you find yourself pondering about a recently retired NBA player, asking, "Whatever happened to…"—chances are he is playing in the three-on-three league co-founded by rapper Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz.
On Sunday, Chauncey Billups, at the time still mulling taking over the front-office leadership position of the Cleveland Cavaliers, made his debut. Fans offered North Carolina native Rashad McCants an icy reception, and most importantly, players escaped major injuries, unlike the first week when Williams went down with a knee injury.
Bleacher Report caught up with former NBA sharpshooter Roger Mason Jr., the league's president and commissioner, for a quick chat on his impressions of the league's first week and the concept moving forward.
Bleacher Report: How did you get involved with the league?
Mason: We had talked about doing stuff during the lockout (in 2011) and the guy that we brought in, Jeff Kwatinetz, to do some marketing stuff, had a concept that he and Ice Cube had been working on for a while, and they approached me about being president and commissioner of the league. Obviously, it's a great opportunity and I saw the vision and thought I could be a lot of value and so I jumped in.
B/R: No part of you wanted to get out there and play?
Mason: I quit playing when I left the Miami Heat (in 2014). The reason I did is because my passion shifted from the court to the boardroom and I was looking forward to starting my career as an executive back in 2014. The time that I used to dedicate on the court, I enjoy dedicating to working on business and building companies. It's a no-brainer to me to continue on that path and when I left the players association, that's exactly what I did. I jumped full board in with it.
B/R: How do you see the league evolving in the future?
Mason: I just think as the weeks go on, you're going to see better and better play from our players. There were no preseason games, so in a lot of ways, this is rushed coming after some of these guys who haven't played in a competitive game in a while. I just think week after week it's going to continue to improve.
I think we're starting to get into a little bit of a sweet spot. Jeff Kwatinetz, the last few years, really tried to perfect the model. I think we've done a good job providing a game that the players and fans really enjoy. But we're always thinking of new ways to create excitement, be innovative, disruptive with the game and new technology. It wouldn't surprise me if we continue to evolve. Three-on-three fundamentally is one of the most popular forms of basketball. We're really excited about what the future holds.
B/R: You guys already made a noticeable adjustment in changing the games from first to 60 points to first to 50. How did that come about?
Mason: You saw the first week, the games went really long. I think it was right to make that adjustment quickly when you saw how the first games went.
B/R: What do you think will allow this league to succeed?
Mason: It's ambitious to start a league and it becomes more ambitious when you're competing with other leagues out there. What separates the BIG3 is one: There's never been a professional three-on-three league and so we're kind of in a class of our own, starting a new sport, because three-on-three is a lot different than five-on-five. That's the first thing.
The other thing is the format. We're not a league that you get buy-in from a region where you've got these franchises and you've got to get fan support in each region for a long season. With us, the model separates us. We're in the city once a year. Those cities rotate and you get a chance to see all your favorite players. It's a format, I think, that's built to win.