The Cavs’ Tristan Thompson, the most Googled athlete of 2018, is in another Kardashian media storm This is the intersection of two cultural powerhouses

Tristan Thompson is the starting center for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are a 12-46 team, which makes them the third-worst in the NBA, with only two nationally televised games on ESPN, TNT or ABC all year. He was once the team’s big-man defensive stopper who helped the LeBron James-led Cavs secure an unlikely NBA Finals win over the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Now, he’s just a solid performer for a team in the NBA’s dungeon. He was also the most Googled athlete of 2018.

Two days after the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, ended, it was Thompson — not former teammate James, unofficial All-Star host Stephen Curry or reigning MVP James Harden — who was the No. 1 trending topic in the country. Why?

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Because of a TMZ story asserting that Thompson was allegedly caught cheating on the mother of his child, reality star Khloe Kardashian. With her sister Kylie Jenner’s best friend, Jordyn Woods. Who has almost the same first name as Thompson’s ex-girlfriend, the mother of his older daughter. Thompson left Jordan Craig for Kardashian two years ago.

Tristan Thompson, all 11 points per game of him, is a household name.

Got all that?

Thompson’s current place at the forefront of a politically congested news cycle is a reminder of the unique intersection of two American cultural powerhouses: an unstoppable reality TV dynasty and a professional league always front and center in American pop culture. Thompson, all 11 points per game of him, is a household name.

Social media has turned this family melodrama into a series of unending memes about everything from Thompson’s alleged “womanizing” to Woods’ relationship to Jenner and the interfamily drama between the sisters. TMZ, Cosmopolitan, E! Online and everyone in between has run the same story about Kim Kardashian unfollowing Thompson and Woods on social media. That’s how dialed in everyone is. That’s the circus.


The blended family of the Jennerdashians includes Kim Kardashian, who is married to Kanye West, Khloe Kardashian, who has a child with Thompson, and Kourtney Kardashian, a model and reality star in her own right. There’s also model/entrepreneur Jenner, who has a child with rapper Travis Scott, as well as matriarch Kris Jenner and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner. Individually, these people are celebrity powerhouses. Collectively, this clan is a cultural supernova. As BuzzFeed reported in 2015, “the family’s activities over the last eight years have been a masterclass in gaming the media to keep viewers hooked on Keeping Up With the Kardashians — and themselves firmly in the public eye.”

He’s just a solid performer for a team in the NBA’s dungeon. He was also the most Googled athlete of 2018.

The Jennerdashian hurricane can overpower the (mostly black) athletes and artists who choose to walk into it. There’s usually the fun of the media spotlight followed by the free fall. Thompson has managed to avoid a fall so far, and if this is truly the end of his interaction with the family, then he’s walking out better than some.

Before Thompson there was Reggie Bush, who dated Kim Kardashian, and Rashad McCants, who dated Khloe Kardashian and was an early cast member on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Lamar Odom was married to Khloe Khloe Kardashian . And Kendall Jenner’s exes include Ben Simmons and upstart NBA baller D’Angelo Russell. West, Scott and Tyga are just a few of the superstar artists who have jumped into the Jennerdashian ecosystem. An ecosystem that, while offering massive amounts of fame, can cloud each man’s achievements while also being blamed for each man’s downfall. Fair or not.

As Elle said in July, “What once began as an entertaining meme quickly developed into a full-blown belief that every single man that is brought into the Kardashian/Jenner family is cursed — destined to fall apart right in front of the public eye.” True or not, when West dons MAGA hats and aligns with President Donald Trump, he’s referred to as someone who is in the Sunken Place — because of his relationship to the Kardashians. When Odom faced drug problems, many believed they were due to the cameras in his face because of his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. When Scott drops a heralded album, he “breaks the Kardashian curse,” and so on.

Thompson, for his part, has played the role of a kind of lady’s man. In April, when TMZ cameras appeared to show the Cavalier kissing two women in a New York City club while Khloe Kardashians was on the verge of having their baby, he spent the playoffs fighting off crowds chanting about his infidelity. These are the reverberations of a relationship with a Kardashian-level celebrity, but he did appear to cheat on a woman who was about to go into labor with their child.

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Things have been relatively quiet for Thompson in the year since his original alleged infidelity, when the media world seemed to close in on him. He’s been able to enjoy relative NBA obscurity in the middle of Ohio for a team that nobody cares about watching. He’s no longer James’ teammate. He’s no longer a part of the biggest rivalry in the NBA. He’s just a guy who grabs rebounds in a lot of lost games. The drama of the past few days, though, has put him firmly in the spotlight again — especially while the NBA is conveniently in between its All-Star Game and its first game back, Thursday night.

On Tuesday, Stephen Curry held a town hall meeting with Barack Obama. And James announced that he is a part of 2 Chainz’s album. But who cares, when there’s a living soap opera to watch? Are lives being destroyed, though, for our gaze? And are there real-life consequences we choose to ignore? After all, there are babies involved here, whose parents already have been separated, or are on the verge.

Minus the Kardashian affiliation, Thompson’s place as the talk of social media water coolers is unlikely. There’s nothing particularly flashy about him. But his current lifestyle is a convergence of themes that captivate. The interracial love affair of big, strapping black athletes and white women. The NBA’s extreme popularity, relevance and media maelstrom that never loosens its grip. The fishbowl of reality TV celebrity and the hundreds of millions of Jennerdashian Instagram followers watching these relationships come together, unfold, reconcile and fall apart again. Add all this to what can feel like our collective desire to invest our attention in anything other than the end of the world as we’ve known it. And hit refresh.

For Kenyon Martin, the next chapter includes finding peace in family and BIG3 league The 39-year-old knew finding himself outside of basketball wouldn’t be a problem

On a sunny, 83-degree day in Camden, New Jersey, more than 300 kids were gathered at the North Camden Community Center for a free basketball clinic sponsored in part by the BIG3 basketball league. Cheerleaders from the South Jersey Fire cheer squad pumped up the crowd before groups of children from first to eighth grades took center court, participating in basketball warm-up drills. The older groups, ninth grade and up, did the same on the outside courts.

In front of the community center, a black, unmarked sprinter van carrying former NBA forward/center Kenyon Martin and former NBA guard Andre Owens pulled up to the building. When the two entered, all activities temporarily ceased as a group of participants rushed to surround the ballers. From the looks on their faces, it was plain to see that some kids were unfamiliar with Martin and Owens, who were in their prime before some of them were conceived. On the other hand, there were looks of admiration from the older boys and girls who instantly recognized Martin — he was drafted No. 1 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 2000 and played four seasons for them — before they started toward him for pictures and autographs.

This is Martin’s life post-NBA retirement. Not as grueling as an NBA schedule, but just the right amount of activity to keep him busy. Outside of appearances, Martin finds himself making up for the family time he lost during his 15 hectic seasons in the NBA.

“I got five little ones, and for me, being at home, being able to take my youngest son — who’s into wrestling — to WrestleMania for his birthday means everything,” Martin said. “Going to my daughter’s ballet recitals. All that kind of stuff. That’s what outweighed the NBA for me. Not playing in the league and only [playing in the BIG3] one day a week, it’s an opportunity for me to be there and do things that I missed out on while I was playing and just growing and building as a family. I just want to be their dad, be their father. They didn’t ask to be here. I love them dearly, and I’m going to do my part.”

These days, Martin represents a league that is quickly becoming a favorite among fans of BIG3, the 3-on-3 basketball league created by Ice Cube. Martin serves as captain for team Trilogy, which includes players Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, James White, Dion Glover, Jannero Pargo and is coached by former Detroit Pistons Bad Boy Rick Mahorn.

Kenyon Martin #4 of Trilogy drives to the basket against Reggie Evans #30 of Killer 3s during week one of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Barclays Center on June 25, 2017 in New York City.

Al Bello/Getty Images

According to Martin, Ice Cube contacted him directly to discuss his vision for the league and the mission behind it. It didn’t take long to persuade Martin to take up the offer to join other former players back on the court for competitive games. Before they hung up, Martin was sold.

“[Ice Cube] grew up a Lakers fan, of course, but a lot of us have been a part of people’s living rooms and barbershop talks for the last 20-plus years,” Martin said. “For you not to see those guys play anymore … Ice Cube was giving us the opportunity to continue our careers at a less strenuous pace: playing half-court, playing 3-on-3 and only one game per week.”

‘Basketball wasn’t my life’

Before retirement, Martin was confident in his abilities to continue playing basketball and knew he still had what it took to help a team win, but he decided to make his 15th season his last go-round in the professional realm after noticing how much interest from NBA teams had dwindled. In July 2015, Martin made it official.

“I loved basketball, I loved competing, I loved being out there, but I looked at it as I was going to work and I treated it as such,” Martin said. “But basketball wasn’t my life. Some people don’t know what to do without the game.”

“Teams didn’t have any interest in my services, and that’s a telltale sign,” Martin said. “… Once I got waived, that was my key for me to step away. I’m too prideful to be put in those kinds of situations. I know my abilities and I know what I was still capable of doing, but if can’t nobody else see it and these other teams can’t see it, then I can’t force them to see it. It was time for me to put the NBA in the past.”

Although the decision was easy for Martin, he hadn’t anticipated the rough transition from a professional basketball player to immediately finding a normalized lifestyle that worked for him. One thing Martin knew for sure was that defining himself outside of basketball wouldn’t be a problem. For Martin, basketball was the way he earned a living — it was never his identity.

“I loved basketball, I loved competing, I loved being out there, but I looked at it as I was going to work and I treated it as such,” Martin said. “But basketball wasn’t my life. Some people don’t know what to do without the game. They don’t know where to turn to. From what I grew up and came out of, making it out of high school was a big deal. If you do anything after that, it’s a plus. Where I’m from … no former athletes come back and talk. None of that. I had to learn on the fly. There was no, ‘You can be good at this if you do this.’ For me, it was just making sure I was a productive member of society and not being a burden to nobody. I played basketball, football and baseball growing up. I played all three of them up until high school. I was tall and athletic, so I just decided to stick with it.”

Kenyon Martin #4 of Trilogy and Rashard Lewis #9 of the 3 Headed Monsters walk off of the court together after their game during week two of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Spectrum Center on July 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Yet, catching a glimpse of basketball games still sparked feelings of frustration. The thought of not being able to walk onto an NBA court was emotionally taxing, but Martin prioritized his time by setting aside moments during his day to “soul search” and found ways to center himself through his family.

Out of his five kids — three girls and two boys, ages 16, 14, 12, 3 and 2 — Martin noticed the natural skills his son, Kenyon Martin Jr., possessed in the sport his father chose more than two decades ago. The high school sophomore and eldest of Martin’s kids is already on recruiters’ radar.

“He’s 16 now, and he’s more skillful than I was at his age,” Martin said. “He handles and dribbles the ball better, but I was always athletic and I always played hard. That separated me from a lot of people. And he’s getting there, but he’s just starting to turn a corner where he realizes he has to play harder than everybody all the time. I was successful at what he’s trying to do, which is be a professional basketball player, so all I can do is guide him. I know what it takes to get there. I’m just trying to help him achieve his goals in life. It’s my job and my obligation to give him all the tools and put him in the right situation so he can try to make that happen for himself.”

Giving the fans what they want

When he’s not juggling family and basketball, Martin is spending time finding his next venture.

“I’ve been doing the TV thing. Me and Michael Rapaport have an NBA show [Two Man Weave] we do,” Martin said. “There’s a new coconut water I’m part owner in called Life Recovery; it’s in 7-Eleven now. I have a car service in Los Angeles that we’re trying to expand, but I’m just trying to figure it out. I have a few other things that I’m interested in. Moving forward, I think I’m a hell of a cook — I can get on that grill. I’m a Texan, so I think my barbecue is immaculate. I might do some TV shows for cooking and a few other things. I’m just trying to see what’s gonna stick without being pigeonholed to one thing with basketball. I’m just trying to put some things in a few different hats and see what sticks for me.”

Martin hasn’t been on the court since Week 1 of the BIG3’s schedule because of a pulled hamstring, an injury he’d never suffered throughout his collegiate or professional career, but he will be ready to roll for Week 5 in Chicago. The following stop, July 30 in Dallas, will be a homecoming of sorts for Martin, who grew up in Oak Cliff, an area of South Dallas.

“Dallas is going to be fun,” Martin said. “It’s not my first time playing there, but this is something new to give friends and family the opportunity to play. It’s been a few years, so it gives them an opportunity to get to see me do my thing again on this level with these guys. My mom and my family are all excited.”

BIG3 league shows signs of promise in Brooklyn debut Despite injuries and rust, former NBA players were competitive in Ice Cube’s new venture

NEW YORK — There was no mic in his hand. No sound check. No Raiders cap. But O’Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube, was still center stage, sharply dressed in a suit and tie as he stood courtside an hour before the debut of his BIG3.

The day wasn’t perfect: Allen Iverson was clearly not Hall of Famer Allen Iverson anymore. Chauncey Billups didn’t attend because of ongoing talks about a front office job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There were injuries, and some kinks still needed to be worked out. But for the most part, the debut of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players was competitive and well-attended by a star-studded crowd of 15,177 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“It’s a great environment,” NBA All-Star James Harden told The Undefeated. “It’s rare to get these actors, actresses, stars of whoever you are, all in one building for one circumstance. It’s a dope event. Dope environment. Good music. Good vibes. And I’m happy to be a part of it and a witness of it. … The way this turned out, Ice Cube and whoever else put this on did a really good job.”

The game of 3-on-3 basketball has been popular in the United States for decades and is growing worldwide. It will debut as a sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Perhaps by then, the United States might want to bring the best players from BIG3 to represent the country.

Power’s DeShawn Stevenson tries to go for the layup while Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal defends during the game between Power and Tri-State on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Music legend, actor and film producer Ice Cube, along with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, announced the launch of BIG3 on Jan. 11. The league has eight teams, its most notable player is Iverson, and it also features former NBA All-Stars Jermaine O’Neal, Kenyon Martin and Rashard Lewis. Coaches include Iverson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Clyde Drexler, Gary Payton, George Gervin, Rick Barry and the intimidating Charles Oakley and Rick Mahorn.

Brooklyn rapper Fabolous performed between the second and the third games, to the locals’ delight.

Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J and Power actress Lela Loren were in attendance, as well as former NBA stars Paul Pierce, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Sam Cassell and Jalen Rose. Harden and Rockets teammate Lou Williams, new Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris were there as well. National media outlets covered it, and Iverson’s news conference was packed.

LL Cool J (left) shakes hands with Ice Cube during the intermission between games on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

There were cool jerseys with nicknames on the back such as “The Answer” for Iverson and “W. Mamba” for Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine, “White Chocolate” for Jason Williams and “Junkyard Dog” for Jerome Williams, who barked for the camera pre-game.

In the BIG3 the game ends when one team scores 60 points, with halftime arriving when a team reaches 30. There is hand-checking and a 4-point shot.

“Everybody that is in this league wants to ball,” Ice Cube told The Undefeated. “They’re not here just to hang out, shoot around. They are real ballers and wanted real competition. They were tired of playing in the Pro-Ams and stuff, and they were ready to play with their peers. It was our job to set the stage … it’s their job to take the league to the next level.”

The former NBA players took the games to a respectable level that Ice Cube could be proud of.

Three of the four games were close. Lewis’ 3-point play clinched 3 Headed Monsters’ win over Mike Bibby’s Ghost Ballers in the opener. DeShawn Stevenson nailed a game-winning 3-pointer to lift Power past O’Neal’s Tri-State and slapped hands with Ice Cube afterward. There were boos when shooting struggles took place with Iverson on the bench coaching during his 3s Company’s victory over the Ball Hogs. Al Harrington scored 25 points as Trilogy cruised in the final game, blowing out the Killer 3s sans Billups by 15 points.

Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal shoots over a fallen Jerome Williams from Power during the game between Power and Tri-State on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

“You walk out there and see the crowd, and it’s like that feeling you get at school the first day or your first NBA game of the season,” Lewis told The Undefeated. “Every year, that first game was a big game. I couldn’t sleep last night, and I had that same [nervous] feeling coming here.”

BIG3 play should improve over the 10-week season as players get the rust off. There is no way Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, 48, is going to keep missing wide-open 3-pointers. But there were some disappointments for the fans, including the superpopular Iverson being more of a coach-player than a player-coach.

Iverson’s 3’s Company teammate DerMarr Johnson told The Undefeated it wasn’t until recently that the 2001 NBA MVP decided he would play, so Iverson hasn’t been working out that long. It felt like a playoff game as the crowd roared in anticipation when the four-time NBA scoring champ ran to the floor slapping the hands of fans. Iverson, an 11-time NBA All-Star, started but came out shortly afterward to take off an irritating television mic. After chants of “We want A.I.” brought him back onto the floor, Iverson looked like he needed more practice as he made one jumper and missed five shots, dished out two assists and had one steal in nine minutes of play.

“The best part about this game here tonight and all the other games, it was exciting all throughout,” Iverson said. “It didn’t need Allen Iverson the player, per se.”

The 42-year-old Iverson understands that he is the face of the BIG3 playerwise, but he prefers to coach. He signed autographs during halftime and was gracious with his time with the media. His presence alone is huge for the BIG3. And with each week of play, the fans and media will remain curious and infatuated with whatever he does.

Ball Hogs’ Dominic McGuire tries to go up for a shot while defended during the game between 3’s Company and Ball Hogs on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

”I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. Coach part is going to go on throughout the game,” Iverson said. ”Playing part is not going to be what you expect. You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

BIG3 had a lot of cool swag for sale, including a jersey of a star player from each team. It wouldn’t be surprising if jersey sales for Iverson and “W. Mamba” did well. Billups’ jersey with the Killer 3s that reads “Mr. Big Shot” was available for sale, but he may never wear it. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP is still in negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the president of basketball operations position, sources told The Undefeated. Billups did not attend Sunday’s games, and a source told The Undefeated that Billups didn’t want to be a distraction on BIG3’s first day with the Cavaliers situation so fluid.

The first day of BIG3 games will be shown on Fox Sports 1 on Monday night. Fans watching on television will get a condensed version of games and also bleeped-out curse words from the likes of Payton. The first two games seemed to take about an hour. If the score were cut to 50 or 42, the contests would probably be quicker and more fan-friendly, with better play because of fewer minutes. But for the first day, most of the players appeared to be in good shape, motivated and even physical, as some dove to the floor for loose balls.

“What a great idea. I think it’s 20 years late, but it’s time for it,” Drexler said.

The BIG3 should get better from here. Iverson, the former Philadelphia 76ers star, may get in better shape knowing that a stop in the City of Brotherly Love is only three weeks away.

3’s Company captain Allen Iverson warms up on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

The one thing the BIG3 can’t control is injuries.

3 Headed Monsters guard Jason Williams left Game 1 with a knee injury, but Payton expects him to return to action in Philadelphia. Power captain Corey Maggette also suffered a leg injury that isn’t expected to be too serious. Trilogy captain Martin pulled a hamstring as well. Iverson complained about his legs being tired after playing just nine minutes.

“It’s going to be competitive,” said Lewis, who made the BIG3’s first 4-point shot. “It’s on TV. You have the internet nowadays. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. Guys came ready to play. I just think it’s a little different. [Williams] came and greeted us and said the doctor said nothing was wrong and everything was fine. That’s good. We’re going to need Jason Williams.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if more former NBA stars decided to play in the future.

Several BIG3 players mentioned Kevin Garnett. Pierce spoke highly of the event and seemed curious about possibly playing. The fans also chanted, “We Want Kobe,” during Iverson’s game. Former NBA players such as Lewis, Andre Owens, Josh Childress, Dominic McGuire, Rasual Butler, Derrick Byars, Rashad McCants and Lou Amundson might get another look at the NBA because of BIG3.

BIG3 also gave longtime NBA fans a chance to either attend or watch and introduce their children to Dr. J, The Answer, The Glide, The Glove, K-Mart, The Ice Man and Ice Cube.

“It’s about getting a chance to see guys you can’t see anymore, especially in this setting,” Ice Cube said. “Seeing our Hall of Fame coaches, celebrating what they did for the league and what they did for us. And now, they’re competing like they are used to. This is not a charity game. This is not a one-time tournament. This is a season. So these guys are fighting for the chip, and it’s going to be great to see them back.”

The BIG3 has people of color and women in elite roles.

As one of the two co-founders of BIG3, Ice Cube may be the most notable African-American to be atop a professional sports league since Manny Jackson owned the Harlem Globetrotters. Former NBA sharpshooter Roger Mason Jr., an African-American, is the president and commissioner of BIG3.

Trilogy’s Kenyon Martin screams after scoring during the game between Trilogy and Killer 3s on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Amy Trask, who was previously named the NFL’s first female CEO by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in 1997, is now CEO of BIG3.

“Look, doesn’t that say it all?” said Trask to The Undefeated. “I had the great fortune and tremendous privilege in my life of working for two men, Al Davis and now Ice Cube, neither of whom are remotely concerned about my gender. We’re all here to do a job.

“Race, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other individuality has no bearing whatsoever on whether any individual can do a job. It’s absolutely irrelevant if we are engaged to do a job.”

Next up for the BIG3 is Charlotte, North Carolina. The television debut and the sold-out crowd in Brooklyn will probably help sell tickets at the Spectrum Center. The arrival of Maggette, a former Duke star, McCants, a former North Carolina star, and former Charlotte Hornets forward Lee Nailon should be attractive to the locals. Perhaps even Michael Jordan will show up in the arena his Hornets play in to join the NBA family reunion as a spectator.

“I’ve been excited about it since they had the press conference in January. I can always say I was one of the first players to play in it during the first year it was created,” Lewis said.

Ice Cube’s BIG3 league is not novelty or nostalgia MVPs, a protester, misfits — these ballers have something to prove and are playing to win

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is 48 years old and he’s in an LA Fitness about 15 miles west of Atlanta. He’s getting frustrated. Abdul-Rauf is not happy with the way his jumper is falling. So he’s pushing, relentlessly, with the same behind-the-back dribble. Then two more dribbles to the baseline. And then a jumper about 15 feet from the basket. Abdul-Rauf drills for an hour and a half, shooting from midrange, from the 3-point line, from the corner. Shooting from the wrong foot, shooting off balance.

He’s made 23 of 25 shots. But Abdul-Rauf does a special kind of math: “Nope! It doesn’t count! Don’t count my shots if they hit rim!”

When he’s done shooting, he battles Deaundrae Ballard, a four-star recruit headed to the University of Florida this season. Abdul-Rauf, who has been training Ballard and prepping him for his college career, squares up with the novice, who’s at least 6 inches taller. Three-pointer. Wet. Repeat. The sounds of other basketballs hitting the gym floor disappear. The other ballers getting in morning workouts have stopped to watch. Another 3. Swish. His gray sweatpants and royal blue shirt are drenched in sweat. It’s also dripping from his salt-and-pepper goatee.

Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who will play in the BIG3 league, works on his handles while training for the start of the league.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

Abdul-Rauf shoots for two more hours. He’s done some variation of this routine every weekday since he was a Louisiana State University standout. But he’s going harder now than he has in a long time. The former Denver Nugget scoring machine, who was Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick was Colin Kaepernick, is gearing up for another chance at the national stage. He’s got a new team, the 3-Headed Monsters, with teammates Jason Williams, Kwame Brown, Rashard Lewis and Eddie Basden. And he’s got a new league to conquer. Abdul-Rauf is getting ready for the BIG3.


The phrase “dog days of summer” originated more than 5,000 years ago as a way to describe the months when the Dog Star, Sirius, would make itself most visible. Some believed The Dog was the cause of July and August heat. For the past century, afternoon baseball games have been a hallmark of those hot and lazy summer days, as fans flock to fields across the country to pass time with the heroes of the diamond. Yet, over the past 20 years or so, baseball has had an ever-decreasing impact on American culture, especially for African-Americans, who as of 2013 make up only 9 percent of Major League Baseball fans, far behind the black fanship of professional basketball and football.

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch. That’s where Ice Cube and his BIG3 come in.

“Summer is boring as s—,” Ice Cube said at a January news conference announcing the BIG3, billed as America’s 3-on-3 Professional Basketball League. The league features former NBA players, most notably Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, in half-court games. It’s set to tour over the summer and to culminate in a championship game at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26. The league, which launches on June 25, comprises eight teams (with names such as “Power” and “3’s Company”) of five players each: three starters and two reserves. All are coached by legends such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Clyde Drexler.

“I feel great going into opening night,” Ice Cube said recently via mobile phone. “Fan interest is there. We have the teams and the talent to pull this league off. It feels good.”

From a distance, the BIG3 may seem like a novelty gig, a chance for nostalgia ballers to hit a few crossovers for YouTube and Instagram before retreating back into retirement. But a closer look at the league reveals passionate players, a brain trust and an organization that aims to be America’s second major pro basketball association.

Actor/rapper Ice Cube addresses the crowd at the 2017 BIG3 basketball league draft at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on April 30 in Las Vegas.

Sam Wasson/Getty Images

“We want this to be a viable [career] option for players who feel like they still got game and don’t want to go overseas, or who don’t want to do all that damn running up and down the court,” said Cube. “We hope to have an exciting season, and a championship game, with teams who deserve to be there.”

“I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting. Concepts for the BIG3 started on opposite sides of the country. On the East Coast there was Roger Mason Jr., a 2002 second-round draft pick for the Chicago Bulls who played for 10 years as a journeyman with teams such as the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks. After his final stint with the league in 2014, Mason joined the National Basketball Players Association as deputy executive director. While there, he spearheaded efforts to ensure that retired players had access to adequate health care.

Mason also has a passion for entertainment and for evolving the NBA’s tech thumbprint. Mason was the mastermind behind the inaugural NBA Player Awards show in 2015. It aired on BET, was a huge success and is a precursor to next week’s Drake-hosted NBA Awards on TNT. The BET version was executive-produced by Jeff Kwatinetz (an interesting guy), founder of entertainment company The Firm. Kwatinetz is also COO of Ice Cube’s Cube Vision film production company.

Mason had an idea he wanted to run by Kwatinetz: The NBA was seemingly headed toward a 2017 lockout (that was avoided), and Mason wanted to give players and fans something during the downtime. “My vision was a 3-on-3 tournament with active players,” said Mason. “It would give them something to do and keep games going. Then I learned that Cube and Jeff had been working on a concept for an actual league for about a year.”

The BIG3 teams don’t represent particular cities. Instead, the league will travel from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, eight cities in total before the Nevada championship. Each stop will feature four games so every player gets seen. Think And1 Tour meets NBA basketball meets Harlem Globetrotters.

“Obviously, Cube and Jeff had been in the entertainment world,” Mason said. “And the idea of a touring league, similar to a music tour, was brilliant. I was all in to jump in with them after that.”

It was up to Cube, Mason and Kwatinetz to make the league familiar to fans while embracing rules that would make the game different, and innovative. The first team to 60 points wins. Halftime starts after the first team scores 30 points. There’s a four-point shot spread out over different areas of the court beyond the 3-point line (Ice Cube’s idea). The BIG3 features the return of legalized hand-checking, taking the ball outside of the paint after defensive rebounds. Once the rules were set, the trio set out to find established names. Chief among them was Iverson.


Allen Iverson was BIG3’s golden goose. Secure him and the league had its transcendent star. The 2001 NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer was a human cultural landmark at the turn of the 21st century. His cornrows, baggy shorts, tattoos and hip-hop swag made him an icon. His name still resonates with NBA fans who remember the time he stepped over (now Cleveland Cavaliers head coach) Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and put Michael Jordan on skates in 1997. Even now, whenever Iverson shows up in public, whether it’s to retire his jersey in Philadelphia, or to conduct an interview, fans become enamored all over again. So grabbing The Answer was a major coup, even if he was reluctant to play at first. BIG3 is using his star power, producing a video series documenting his road back to basketball. Iverson obviously won’t be the same MVP he was in 2001, but any flashes of his previous greatness would make the BIG3 a must-watch spectacle.

“Iverson had some things going on overseas that didn’t go as well as he thought,” Mason said. “So I had to reassure him that this was as professional as it gets. And we let him know we’d work at his pace, so he can do what’s comfortable for him.”

Cube himself has been keeping tabs on Iverson’s preparedness. “I saw him in January and he looked good, but I saw him a few weeks ago and he looks more chiseled, and even more in shape,” he said. “His flavor and his style and what he brings to the league will be huge for us.”

Creating new pro leagues is hard. Vince McMahon’s XFL was set to be an offseason professional football league and flamed out after its first season. Donald Trump’s United States Football League was a disaster. The American Basketball Association, formed in 1967 and possibly the most renowned competitor to a major league, lasted nearly a decade, starred Dr. J, and helped revolutionize the way basketball was played. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.

Terry Pluto, columnist at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and author of 1990’s Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, believes the era of leagues competing with the NBA is over. “The goal of the ABA was always to merge, never to exist on its own,” Pluto said. “And it came along at the right time. There will never be another ABA because of the timing. In 1967, there were only 10 [NBA] teams … 11 men on most rosters … 110 pro basketball players. The international game was nothing back then. Now, there’s basketball all over the world, and the U.S. has 30 teams and the D-League. I don’t see much future in anything new.”

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch.

One reason it’s so difficult to battle established leagues is the fan bases that have followed teams for decades. Starting new franchises and getting fans to buy in is a major hurdle. That’s where the BIG3 has an advantage: It’s using players such as Iverson and former Sacramento Kings guard Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, a fan favorite. These guys are franchises in their own right, with their own followings. It’s more about them than the team, which has been at the heart of the NBA’s recent success and can be a driving force in BIG3’s longevity.

NBA legend Allen Iverson signs autographs before the NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s the secret to BIG3. Former NBA players bring a level of expertise that surpasses leagues looking to use minor league players or former college stars. So while the BIG3 may not revolutionize basketball in the way the ABA did, it’ll remind fans of the NBA they loved in the ’90s and early 2000s, which is just as valuable. “It’s a good product because the basketball IQ is off the hook,” said Ice Cube. “These guys just knowing how to play the game is the draw.”

There’s also another important incentive for players to perform at their best: money. Yes, BIG3 is a real league with real contracts. Each player has signed a $100,000 contract for the year. The Basketball-Related Income is 52 percent of the league’s revenue, to be split at the end of the season. The championship team gets the lion’s share of the money. Each subsequent team gets a smaller cut. So players have the incentive to take the game seriously.

But the biggest reason to expect the games to be competitive and intense is that the BIG3 is full of players who are out to prove doubters wrong. For every Chauncey Billups or Mike Bibby who wants to play versus his peers, there’s a Ricky Davis or Rashad McCants whose off-the-court reputations led to the premature demise of their pro careers. “I’m not in the league now because of executive reasons,” said McCants, who will be playing on Trilogy with Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington.

McCants was drafted 14th in 2005 by the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading North Carolina to an NCAA championship the year before. By the ’07-’08 season, McCants was averaging just shy of 15 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. He was, however, outspoken and, fairly or not, had earned a reputation for being difficult to coach. And he was also the first athlete to publicly date a Kardashian, appearing as a guest in 2009 on Keeping Up With The Kardashians while dating Khloe.

Rashad McCants of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes up for a shot against Yao Ming (No. 11) and Chuck Hayes of the Houston Rockets during their game on Dec. 20, 2008, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

By 2009, just four years into his career, McCants was out of the NBA despite averaging 10 points a game. “Me being out of the league has nothing to do with my play. To not get calls for four years? Not even a meeting?” McCants also came under fire in 2014 for comments about the athletic program at UNC. He’s spent the last few years bouncing around international leagues and sees the BIG3 as a chance to show owners that they were wrong to pass on him — and to also give them a chance to rectify their mistake. There’s an outside chance that someone like McCants could put on a show good enough to land back in the NBA. It’s an outcome BIG3 leadership fully encourages.

“If players get looked at by an NBA GM,” Cube said, “our league isn’t going to do anything to stop anyone from going back to the NBA, or any other league for that matter. We want this to be for the players. Really, we just want them to have fun.”


“Let’s go! It’s great to be around you guys!”

For McCants and other former players interested in joining the league, the first step to a championship was a combine and draft that took place in Las Vegas in April. McCants took center stage by breaking the ice: “I’m out here killing!”

The combine was an invitational for former NBA players: to run a few scrimmages so that player-coaches for each team — Gary Payton (who is just coaching, unfortunately), the aforementioned Iverson, Billups among them — could get a glimpse of their options and draft accordingly. The combine started tentatively enough, with players engaging in some one-on-one games. But mostly they were just feeling each other out, trying to determine how hard they wanted to go. “[My comment] got everybody’s attention,” McCants recalled. “It stole the show of me being the head of the pack and ready to go.”

On the other side of the court, there was a graying, slim participant quietly nailing jumpers. He was also dominating his one-on-one matchups. As he played, players took notice. It’s really him? But …

People were surprised to see me out there,” said Abdul-Rauf. “More than anything, they were surprised to see how I look. My stamina is still up. I look like I can still go out there and do it.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting.

Abdul-Rauf’s story has become part of sports lore. He was drafted by the Nuggets in 1990 as the third overall pick and soon became known as one of the league’s most feared streak scorers, infamously dropping 51 points on John Stockton’s head on a frigid December Utah night. The Mississippi native’s scoring prowess was so legendary that Phil Jackson tweeted in February 2016 that Stephen Curry reminded him of a young Abdul-Rauf. Then in 1996, it all came crashing down.

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game against the Chicago Bulls on March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back.

AP Photo/Michael S. Green

That’s when the star point guard decided not to stand for the national anthem, citing that the flag and what it represents was in conflict with his Muslim faith. This prompted the NBA to suspend him for a game, costing him $32,000. The league eventually let him bow his head and pray during the anthem. By the end of that season, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. He was out of the league by 2001, unable to even get meetings with other teams. There’s no question his protest caused his career to end — and that’s even more apparent by the fact he’s closing in on 50 and still giving buckets to players a generation younger than him.

“The [NBA] already knows the truth,” Abdul-Rauf said of his exile. “When I talk to people in the street, it’s common knowledge what was done to me. I can never get those contracts back. But God has blessed me to have my quickness and stamina.”

That quickness and stamina wowed his competition and coaches at the combine. “I was curious to see if I could get my shot off,” he recalled. “I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.” Abdul-Rauf is the oldest player in the BIG3.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains for the start of the BIG3 league at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

While Abdul-Rauf was showcasing his skill and endurance on one side of the court, leading him to be drafted 17th (out of 24 players) by Payton’s 3 Headed Monsters, McCants was engaged in 3-on-3 scrimmages that were beginning to get heated. A referee made a questionable call in a game involving McCants, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and others. Players got in the ref’s face, players got in each other’s faces, and the scrimmage deteriorated into a full-on scrum. The physicality and competitiveness set a tone for how the games might be played: physical NBA-style basketball that encourages trash-talking and ruggedness.

“A lot of times in [NBA] practices, players would play 3-on-3s,” said Mason Jr. “Some of those battles were the best battles no one ever saw. We’re unlocking these battles. … They’re competitive, high basketball IQ. It’s tough because you’re on an island defensively, so you have to step it up.”

What people may not realize is the fact that even though games are half-court and involve six players instead of 10, the cardiovascular toll can be greater than in a traditional game. For one, there’s a 14-second shot clock, which means attempts are going up rapidly and players are scrambling for rebounds. Also, no one can hide on defense. Defenders have to square up and create stops without much help. And with just six players on the court, everything is more spread out, so players have to cover more ground. Just shooting around? It won’t be enough. Players will have to show up to games in the best shape they’ve been in since they were in the NBA.

There’s definite potential for viral crazes, as Twitter videos are perfect for a league where a legendary point guard might end up face-first on the gym floor after a slick crossover. This works to the BIG3’s advantage, as the threat of embarrassment is going to pressure players to show up on June 25 ready to do business. “I don’t expect anyone to take this lightly, because they’re gonna get clowned if they do,” said Ice Cube. “Nobody wants to leave their legacy on the BIG3 court. Dudes are going to come out there and play with pride because that’s what I want to see.”

It’s impossible to predict the long-term success of a league like the BIG3. For Cube and Mason, if players get a chance to show off their talent and fans are entertained, then the BIG3 will find a winning formula. For Abdul-Rauf, the sustainability of the BIG3 means a chance to do something altruistic for members of the exclusive NBA fraternity — en route to making those summer days less dogged for fans.

Former NBA player and current BIG3 player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

“For some people, pay is important,” he said via phone while on his way to yet another workout — and with a sureness he’s gained as a public speaker over the past decade. “You don’t know who this will help down the road. This could … last four or five years. Taking it seriously could help someone who’s struggling … now they can make a little money and get back on their feet. At the least, people might say, ‘We didn’t know he still had it.’ ”

Daily Dose: 5/1/17 Hasan Minhaj wins the weekend at White House correspondents’ dinner

It was extremely busy last week and over the weekend. I filled in for Bomani Jones on The Right Time on ESPN Radio. Then on Sunday we did The Morning Roast, which was fun. Then this tweet destroyed my mentions.

The president is back at it. Monday, he released audio of an interview in which he exposed himself as being completely unaware of American history, which is shocking to exactly zero people. What continues to be surprising is how brazenly he just states things that are completely incorrect and seems to think that just saying them will make it so. Not the case. Andrew Jackson wasn’t alive for the Civil War. That’s a fact. Also, it’s extremely not OK to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” for multiple reasons.

Speaking of the president, he skipped the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Again, that came as no surprise. The annual event that turns D.C. into a raging zoo of celebrity and politics still went on, however, and it was probably better that he wasn’t present, as basically every single person who took the stage was there to let him know exactly how little they think of him. But comedian Hasan Minhaj was clearly the star of the show, stinging the media crowd with a scathing plea to do better while dropping some of the smartest jokes that event’s seen in years.

If you haven’t heard about the Fyre Festival, lucky you. Basically, Ja Rule and a guy whom many people consider to be a scam artist put together a week full of programming that was supposed to blow the festival circuit away in terms of scale, luxury and exclusiveness. All this came at price tags that got up into the tens of thousands of dollars. Seriously. Then, it completely fell apart. Literally. And people were stuck in the Bahamas with no food and no shelter. Total debacle. Now they’re getting sued for $100M, accused of fraud. Life comes at you fast.

The Big3 appears to officially be here. I have to admit, when this idea first came up, I didn’t exactly think it would last. Sure, Ice Cube was involved, but I figured he might lose interest or some other snag would come up that didn’t get it off the ground. I was WAY wrong about that. Over the weekend they league held its draft, which is pretty cool. It’s a 3-on-3 hoops league with former NBA stars, so I don’t know how much good basketball we’ll get, but it’ll certainly have star power. The top pick was Rashad McCants, which is … interesting.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you don’t know who Francesca Ramsey is, you will soon. The comedian and Comedy Central star is soon getting her own late night show, which is very special in America, as she’s a black woman. But with that opportunity comes a lot of pressure, never mind responsibility, to a certain extent. It won’t be easy, but we’re glad she’s there.

Snack Time: If you’re wondering, Rep. Maxine Waters is still about that action when it comes to talking about the commander in chief. She laid it out again over the weekend, calling him disgusting and disrespectful.

Dessert: This will make you laugh. Guaranteed.