The basketballs finally stopped bouncing Friday at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy, and dozens of former and aspiring professional basketball players gathered to hear a message from one of the greatest masters of ceremonies to touch a microphone.
“Thank you for coming out, man. Amazing talent out here,” said Ice Cube, also an actor, a writer and a co-founder of the Big3, a professional three-on-three basketball league preparing for its fourth season.
“Stay ready, because I expect to see a lot of faces this summer.”
The Big3 hosted a scouting combine Friday in Las Vegas and will play five of its eight regular-season weeks at Orleans Arena this summer. Basketball legends Bill Russell, George Gervin, Gary Payton and Julius Erving were in attendance Friday, along with droves of Big3 hopefuls, many of whom have played in the NBA.
Ice Cube spoke with the Review-Journal about the Big3 season, the challenges of the pandemic and, of course, his beloved Raiders.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
RJ: The Big3 had built all this momentum, and then all of a sudden, the pandemic hits. How did you navigate the challenges?
Ice Cube: Just trying to make sure we did what we needed to do to survive. We had to break down to kind of a slim staff and just try to keep our costs down. You get a league going, and those costs get to stacking up on you. We had to be smart. We had to keep our sponsors happy. A lot of them had their own issues. We lost a few, but it’s just keeping everything afloat.
RJ: Before that, what kind of trajectory did you think the league was on?
Ice Cube: Oh, yeah. Our fourth year, changing the rules, bring the fire, going younger, the tryouts. We had so much momentum going into year four. We felt like we definitely could have gotten over the hump. We got knocked back a few steps, but that’s OK. We didn’t think it was going to be easy to start a whole league from scratch.
RJ: What makes Las Vegas the perfect place for the Big3 in 2021?
Ice Cube: It’s a sports town now. We came here our first year because it was entertainment; it was a great place to have one singular event. But now, with the Golden Knights, with the Raiders, Aces, it’s a sports town now. We wanted to be part of it. The fans are passionate, and to have multiple games here was important because we’ve got a party town and a sports town at the same time. And we’re not too far from Los Angeles. We can have our friends from California come on in and make it a party.
RJ: Today certainly felt like a party. What did you want to see out of the combine as things get into motion?
Ice Cube: The talent that I saw and the passion. The guys coming here in shape, ready to play and playing hard. Putting it on the line. The guys take the league extremely serious. I’m happy to see that. That’s what it’s all about. I would hate for guys just to come in and think it was a joke and that the league was a joke. The league is hard. It ain’t no joke. You’ve got to be a big boy to play in the Big3.
RJ: How has the talent in the league improved? And what was the strategy to getting better players?
Ice Cube: Just putting out a good product and treating the players right. We’ve felt the word of mouth would get around that this is a league that does it top class and knows how to treat players and coaches and the talent. That’s what it’s all about it.
RJ: What do you think of your Raiders being in Las Vegas?
Ice Cube: I love the Raiders here, man. I didn’t really worry about them staying in Oakland. I wanted them to come to L.A. But we ended up getting the Chargers. I don’t know what’s up with that. But the next best place was here. Coming to Las Vegas, Las Vegas is like our cousins, man. We love it. It’s a great drive. I’m going to be up in the arena, so let’s do it.
RJ: So you’re planning on being at some games?
Ice Cube: Oh, hell yeah.