Via Sport Business: Ice Cube reiterates call on “archaic” Fiba to allow Big3 players to compete at Olympics
By BIG3 July 23, 2021
July 23, 2021
Ice Cube has significantly enhanced the presence of 3×3 basketball in the US through the Big3 league (Credit: Getty Images)
- Big3 co-founder says there is “some shame” on US men’s national team for not reaching Tokyo
- Entrepreneur believes eligibility rules should be expanded to allow Big3 players to take part
- Serbian superstar Bulut threatened with Olympics exclusion after being drafted by Big3 in 2019
Basketball will significantly expand its presence at the Olympics when the three-on-three version of the sport will make its debut in Tokyo this summer alongside the traditional five-on-five event.
The 3×3 competition will take place from July 23-28 at the outdoor Aomi Urban Sports Park. Eight men’s and eight women’s teams will compete for gold in Tokyo, initially in round-robin play before the knockout stages.
Notably, the United States men’s national team failed to qualify, which is likely to hinder interest domestically on NBC Sports. It is the first time that Team USA failed to qualify for an Olympic men’s or women’s basketball event, including the boycotted Moscow Olympics in 1980.
Teams consist of three players and one substitute competing in 10-minute games, with the winner the first team to 21 points, or the team with the higher score at the end of regulation play. Should the game remain tied after 10 minutes, an overtime period follows where the team that scores two points first wins.
In a fast-paced, half-court format, the shot clock is just 12 seconds, which is half of the time allowed in a National Basketball Association game. The balls are also slightly smaller than in the 5×5 game, making it easier to handle and shoot. Meanwhile, players cannot foul out, there is usually loud music playing while coaches are not present on the sidelines during games.
As part of a wider effort by the International Olympic Committee to get a younger audience to tune in, 3×3 basketball has joined sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding, and karate as sports which will be completely new to the Olympics in the Tokyo Games.
It also presents a welcome chance for countries who rarely find success in the 5×5 format – such as Japan, Poland, and the Netherlands – to compete for basketball medals at the Olympics.
The Olympic 3×3 basketball competition in Tokyo will be held at Aomi Urban Sports Park (Credit: Getty Images)
Most of the Olympians compete in somewhat obscure official Fiba 3×3 World Tour events and, as such, the lack of big-name NBA players – due to Fiba eligibility rules – could potentially impact interest in the event beyond its novelty factor.
Outside of the Olympics and Fiba-sanctioned events, Ice Cube’s Big3 professional league has significantly enhanced the profile of the sport in the US since its launch in 2017.
After being forced to sit out its 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Big3 has returned with a new chief executive in Chris Hannan, a Triller broadcast deal, and a series of new commercial partners including Microsoft, Taco Bell, Toyota, and Monster Energy.
Players in the Big3 – which has significantly different rules from the Fiba version of the sport – are not considered eligible to compete at the Olympics.
This issue came to a head in 2019 when Serbian point guard Dusan Bulut was forced to withdraw from the Big3 after being allegedly threatened with not being able to play in the Olympics if he did not leave the league.
Fiba officially declared that “participation in Big3 does not have an impact” on eligibility for the Olympics. But the Wall Street Journal reported that had Bulut played in the Big3 without Fiba’s permission, he would have faced a fine of approximately $10,000 plus a 24-month ban from its events, which would have prevented him from participation in tournaments necessary to qualify for the Games.
In an angry statement, the Big3 described Fiba’s decision as “outrageous”, “shameful,” and “callous.”
“Enlightened leagues like the Big3 and the NBA support and nurture the worldwide growth of professional basketball by supporting the game and its players,” said Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz. “But it’s clear that Fiba clings to the old plantation economics, protecting its turf and has the audacity to threaten anyone, including its best player, when they ‘get out of line’.”
Fiba has also formed an official partnership with Hoop It Up, the 3×3 basketball tour owned by former National Basketball Association star Kevin Garnett, to help grow the game in the States.
Ice Cube, the former musician turned entrepreneur and still an active actor, spoke to SportBusiness about the wider opportunities for 3×3 basketball and the Big3 amidst the sport’s Olympic debut, and why he thinks Big3 players should be allowed to compete at future Games.
What does it mean for the sport of 3×3 basketball that it’s on the biggest sporting stage of them all? How big is this opportunity?
It’s huge. It’s [been] a long time coming…3×3 has been the little cousin of 5×5 for ever. Most people grow up, you learn the game by playing 3×3, and then you continue to develop the game at 5×5. If you look around the world, more people play 3×3 than 5×5 because of space and infrastructure in a lot of countries. It’s always been there waiting to be elevated. What’s cool about the Olympics is that it elevates 3×3 to the highest level when it comes to the amateur version of the game. What’s great about the Big3 is that we’ve elevated it even further at the professional level. It’s here to stay.
What do you make of the format in Tokyo – with just eight teams for the men and women to start off with?
It’s a fair amount. You don’t want to make the tournament too big because it is new. You want to capture people’s imagination and then get them cheering for who can actually take home the gold so it’s probably right for the first year.
3×3 basketball is likely to be overshadowed by 5×5 basketball while the other new sports at the Olympics, like climbing and skateboarding, have something of a novelty factor to them. Does this make it potentially harder for 3×3 basketball to stand out and make a mark in Tokyo?
Not at all. It actually makes it more palatable for people to accept when they see it in other forms outside of the Olympics. This is going to be a great introduction to some people and hopefully they continue to follow the sport, and our league the Big3, which is a different version, but I think it’s all going to help each other.
The US men’s national team did not qualify for the Games. How much does this frustrate you as someone who’s spent a lot of time, money and effort to grow the game here in the States?
It frustrates me on the level that I believe the USA should never not qualify for a basketball event. There’s a little shame on the country for not doing that. There’s also a little shame on the International Olympic Committee for not allowing our athletes to [participate]. They wanted our athletes to go through their points system but they don’t do that to the NBA athletes. These guys we have are former NBA players, a lot of them, and they still play around the world. We felt they were being a little nitpicky and weren’t reaching out for the best players they could find to represent the United States.
Do you think there needs to be another ‘Dream Team moment’ where 3×3 is opened up to the best players in the world?
Yeah, I think they definitely need to do that. You want to send the best athletes you can and not nitpick with these archaic rules.
Serbian point guard Dusan Bulut was forced to withdraw from the Big3 after being allegedly threatened with not being able to play in the Olympics if he did not leave the league (Credit: Getty Images)
What will the Big3 do during the Olympics to try to capitalize on this moment and draw attention to what you’re doing?
We’re going to continue to play our game. We’re playing at the same time as the Olympics. We would rather people look at our version of the Big3 than what they’ll see in the Olympics. It’s good for us as it takes no attention away from our league here because the US didn’t qualify so in some ways that helps the Big3.
Are you expecting a spike in interest in the Big3 in the aftermath of the Games in terms of fan attendance, TV viewership and sponsorship interest – and how are you preparing for this?
We already have a ton of great sponsors and visibility. We expect to get more attention but I don’t know if that would be because of the Olympics 3×3 or because the product that we put on the floor is the most exciting product in the summer.
What would you like to see happen in the coming weeks and months globally for the sport to grow? Would you like to see more leagues like the Big3 formed internationally?
Of course. We would like each country to form their own version of the Big3 and we would love to be involved in that. My dream is to put on what we call the Big Cup, which is like the World Cup with 3×3 teams from all over the world competing in a tournament here in America and see who is the best outside of the Olympics….and see who is the best in the world for real.
Prior to the pandemic, the Big3 had plans to put on some exhibition games in China. Do you still have these international ambitions?
Yes, without a doubt. Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed that trip but we’re going to the Bahamas for our playoffs and championship. We’re talking to Mexico and Cancun. We want to bring it all over the world. We’ve had interest in South America and Europe so we’re going to try to figure that out in the coming months, weeks and years because we believe we have great athletes who are known all over the world and we have fans all over the world.
It seems likely that 3×3 basketball will be in Paris in 2024 and then Los Angeles in 2028. What confidence does this give you about the long-term prospects for the sport?
We have a lot of confidence that 3×3 will become a major sport because everyone plays it, kids play it at school, you can actually end up playing more 3×3 in your life than 5×5 so it’s just there for the taking. It’s about how we present it, promote it, and market it. It’s right there, people love it.
Obviously you have your own Big3 league but do you think it might be beneficial for the sport if the NBA established its own 3×3 league due to the power of the NBA brand?
No, they shouldn’t establish their own [3×3] league because they wouldn’t do it right. I think we have the best 3×3 league in the world and I don’t know if anyone can come along and take that at this point. The players love playing in our league. I believe [the NBA] should continue to do 5×5, we continue to do 3×3 and we’re complementary to each other and not adversarial.