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BIG3 ballers hyped at chance to storm the court again

F. Scott Fitzgerald states that there are no second acts in American lives. However, there are a few guys walking around Las Vegas this week who might debate that idea.

This Saturday, the BIG3, the 3-on-3 basketball league founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, will be playing its championship game at MGM Grand Garden Arena to close out its inaugural season. After 10 weeks of games and the recent media rights extension by Fox Sports, one can call this first season a success.

However, the BIG3 offered sports fans more than another avenue to watch basketball during the summer. The league also gave its retired players — like Kenyon Martin and Jerome Williams — the opportunity to show they still have some game left.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Martin, a 15-year NBA veteran and first overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft. “The competition that I would be looking for was there. If it would have been a rec league kind of environment, I wouldn’t have been involved with it.”

Martin was one of the first players contacted by Ice Cube in the early stages of the BIG3. He retired from the NBA in 2015, but he felt like he had a few good basketball years left in his body. When he received the call and listened to what Ice Cube was trying to create, Martin did not hesitate to join.

Martin said that playing in the 3-on-3 format was like going back to his origins of playing ball on the blacktop in the neighborhood.

“3-on-3 basketball is the most popular form of basketball in the world,” he said. “It’s the truest form of basketball. So being able to do it on a professional level is great.

Williams, who played nine NBA seasons, described his thoughts when he heard about the new league.

“”I knew exactly what it was. I knew exactly what I had to do,” Williams said. “I knew I had something left in the tank. I’m in.”

Though most players were excited by the prospect of lacing up their shoes again, there were some, like Kwame Brown, that had their reservations.

Brown, a 12-year vet and the first player to be drafted No. 1 overall from high school in 2001, recalled hearing about the league three weeks before the start of this season and said he was skeptical at first

“Coming from the NBA you don’t want to be a part of something that’s not on that caliber,” he said. “But hearing more about it and seeing who was involved. … Ice Cube don’t touch nothing if it’s not going to be first class, and that’s what it’s been.”

In addition to getting back on the court, the players also enjoy being back among “the guys” and sharing in the camaraderie.

“A lot of guys miss being in the locker room again, being able to play cards with the guys,” Martin said. “I think guys really miss that brotherhood.

Added Brown: “That’s what you miss in sports. Regardless of what everyone is saying on the outside, you have 15 other guys fighting for the same goal which is to win. It’s fun to be around those guys again.”

But for Williams, he sees the BIG3 as a chance for young fans to see some of the old players who were competing before the kids were even born. That includes some players’ own children.

“My son never watched me play,” Williams said. “He’s seven years old, and now he gets an opportunity to see me play and not just the jerseys on the wall.

“That’s the fun thing about the BIG3. We get a chance to show some of the older guys to fans that might not know. Now they get a chance to see us play and respect what we’ve done on the court.”

Jonathan Saxon can be reached at jsaxon@reviewjournal.com.

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