BIG3 makes physical debut in Brooklyn

Allen Iverson drives to the hoop during the inaugural BIG3 event at Barclays Center. (Photo: Getty Images)

The NBA season has been finished for over a week now, but the Barclays Center was still stuffed to the brim with basketball fans to see a different kind of game being played.

Ice Cube’s BIG3 was debuted in Brooklyn on Sunday for over 15,000 fans and televised to millions more on Monday night.

The 3-on-3 league consists of eight teams filled with NBA alumni, highlighted by Allen Iverson, playing a half-court version of the game that made them famous.

Iverson, who has been away from the game for more than five years, showed there was plenty of rust on his game and he admitted that he isn’t here to light up the league with his play.

“I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. The coach part is going to on throughout the game. The player part is not going to be what you expected. I’m 42 years old, been retired for six, seven years,” he said. “The only reason why I can get out there for the couple minutes that I do is for the fans. You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

But the 76ers legend was not needed on the court to rile up the crowd in Brooklyn as it was clear from the opening game that this league was not a chummy get-together.

The BIG3 exuded a physical brand of basketball that has not been seen on a major stage in what feels like a few decades.

With plenty of contact and tenacity, officials put their whistles away, much to the surprise of the players and coaches.

“There was a lot of physical play out there and we just have to learn how to protect ourselves,” said 3 Headed Monsters head coach and NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton. “It was like a prizefight. If you keep getting hit after 12 rounds, you’re going to get tired.”

It provided some painful moments to watch as the afternoon’s third game featuring the Ball Hogs and Iverson’s 3’s Company saw the fans turn on the combatants, booing them mercilessly after they combined to miss nine shots in a row.

“You have to understand, these kids aren’t 19 or 20, and they’re not just coming into the NBA,” Payton said. “They’re in their thirties and some of them are in their forties. You have to pace yourself and your body doesn’t recover like it did when you were 19.”

But it still made for entertaining and competitive games.

“The guys really enjoyed themselves, they played hard and it got pretty physical, which was good to see,” said NBA Hall of Famer George Gervin, who is coaching of the Ghost Ballers. “It reminded me of back in my day when they could put their hands on you. I really enjoyed it.”

Jerome Williams, who played nine years in the NBA and picked up the nickname “Junkyard Dog” along the way, enjoyed it as much as one would expect from someone with that moniker.

“It’s fun basketball. There’s so much,” he said. “Listen, when I came in the league, they had the hand-check, there was grabbing, I played in the playoffs. It was ‘Zo [Alonzo Mourning], Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Karl Malone—that, I’ll take that any day of the week.”

Obviously, with that kind of physicality, tempers did flare, including a heated exchange between Stephen Jackson of the Killer 3’s and Rashad McCants of Trilogy:

That’s the kind of basketball we haven’t seen from the NBA in years, which is now highlighted by too many fouls, iso-ball and flops.

And that’s why the fans at Barclays Center so quickly accepted the BIG3 on Sunday night. 

“Sky’s the limit. I didn’t even expect the debut to be like this. Guys are retired and they see the outcome…they probably are going to get that itch [to come back],” Iverson said. “I think it’s going to get better and better. I was honored to be one of the first guys to participate in this.”

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