Sports money: 1-on-1 with Big3 summer basketball league founder Ice Cube on changes for 2020 season, why he won't 'harass' Kobe Bryant

Key Points
  • The BIG3, co-founded by rapper ICE Cube announced significant rule changes for the 2020 season.
  • Entering its fourth season, the league lowered the age requirement to 22, and altered game regulations that include adding a red ball.
BIG3 founder Ice Cube reacts during the game between the Ghost Ballers and the Power during week four of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Dunkin' Donuts Center on July 13, 2019 in Providence, Rhode Island.
Adam Glanzman | Getty Images

Legendary rapper and entertainment entrepreneur Ice Cube made it crystal clear: The Big3 is not a senior tour meant for retired players finished with their careers in the National Basketball Association.

"We're not a senior anything," Cube said in an interview with CNBC. "We just lowered our age to 22. Ain't no seniors at 22. We're young, new; we're fast, and we're strong. That's where you want to be, and that's what we are."

Cube founded the Big3 summer basketball league with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz in 2017. He's tirelessly promoting the young league, which aims to give NBA fans something different during the normal off-season. The league has 12 teams made up of international and former NBA players. The games are harder and faster and are played half court in a traditional 3-on-3 style with three players per side shooting at one hoop.

Big3 co-founder breaks down the business of 3-on-3 basketball
Big3 co-founder breaks down the business of 3-on-3 basketball

Cube announced some other significant rule changes this week as the league prepares to kick off its fourth season this summer.

  • "Bring the Fire" which allows a team to challenge a foul call once per half. When a challenge is issued, one player from each team will compete in a one-on-one possession, with the victor winning his team the foul call.
  • The BIG3 will continue to inject single foul shots for the 2020 season. The single free throws will be worth the number of points for the field goal attempt; however, if the possession is a three or four-point attempt, the player will shoot the foul shot from the top of the key in a selected three-point or four-point area.
  • The league will use a red ball entitled "FIREBALL."

Currently, the BIG3 hasn't mentioned any changes to the pay structure. Participants of the league earn roughly $10,000 per game plus bonuses that are tied to winning. Salaries can reach up to $100,000 for the 11-week traveling circuit.

In a Q&A with CNBC, Cube explained some of the changes for the Big3, why he's done trying to recruit Kobe Bryant and offered some financial advice to young entrepreneurs.

Q: The league has changed a few things as it prepares for the 2020 season. What went into the decision to switch things up?

A: We wanted to put the stamp on our sport and give people a reason to watch us. So, we wanted to do things to make the game better, faster, more entertaining for the fans, and more competitive. Everything that fans want, we want to give them and be able to do that without upsetting purists. They can still watch their NBA basketball, but Fireball is what we do. Fireball 3 is how we play, and it's our style of 3-on-3 with our rules. I think it's more entertaining to watch, and more entertaining to play. So, we wanted to lean into that and not be handcuffed by traditional basketball.

Q: What has been the key for the Big 3 to able to sustain the success it has heading into Year 4?

A: I think we've got a product that fans want to see. It's new, fresh and it's exciting. It's presented in a way that's familiar but also something as new and fresh. That, to me, goes a long way in being successful. I think our business model is realistic and sustainable, not trying to have a team in every city but a game here and a game there, but having it be a festival atmosphere. You watch basketball half the day, have fun and see all the people you know. It's been a ride, but it's been fun.

Q: When did it hit you that the Big3 had the potential to grow?

A: Our first game in Brooklyn, it was packed. DeShawn Stevenson hit a game-winner, and he went crazy; the team went crazy, fans went crazy. I'm like, OK, this is what it's all about. If we can get this reaction from a team that nobody has heard of, think about how it will be once people get familiar with teams and the league. So, it's not until they played and [fans] went for it and [realized] it wasn't a pick-up game or an All-Star game but a real competitive battle. I knew we had a league that could hold itself. As long as it's like this, they're going to watch.

Q: Why are you so dedicated to the promotional aspect? You could've attached your name to the league and stayed behind the scenes. Yet, every year you're on media runs to promote the Big3 and out front as one of the main faces.

A: I'm a sports fan; I always loved basketball. To be able to be this hands-on in a sport that could outlive me, you have to put 110% into it or it won't work. If I weren't dedicated, this wouldn't work. This is why leagues don't work; it's because it's not easy. It's like you have to catch lightning in a bottle and ride a wave. I got to be here for it to work unless I want it to fail.

Q: What would you say you've learned from David Stern on how to operate a league? You're in a similar position as he was decades ago when faced with the challenge of growing the NBA to where it is today.

A: Dedication, vision, not scared to break the mold and recast it because it's about not being satisfied with what you've done but more dedicated to what you're doing and want to do. I've seen him take the NBA from when it was tape-delayed, like we were, to one of the biggest attractions on TV. That's where we want to be. We've borrowed a lot from the NBA; they've shown us how to do it on this level. They are starting to borrow some things from us, and that's cool. It seems like we're right where we want to be.

Q: Every league goes through some type of scandal or issue. Major League Baseball has problems at the moment, while the NBA is fighting offload management concerns. What has the Big 3 learned from firing then-commissioner, Roger Mason Jr. in 2018?

A: You live and learn. There are people that you get into business with that you think are straight up, and sometimes they have hidden agendas and ulterior motives that you don't see until it's too late. The responsible thing to do is what we did in removing that element out of the league and keep pushing. We are fighting the good fight. We are putting athletes back in the arena, back in front of their fans. So, we want to keep pushing and leave all the negativity behind. We've had a few issues that we had to deal with, but anytime you have something good; you're going to deal with a few nuances.

Q: Which of the changes are you most proud to see, and fans will enjoy?

A: I love the "Bring the Fire" rule, and our free throw rule with one shot — even the rule with no game clock – first to 50 [points]. We don't have one garbage minute in our game. I think the NBA should do it. I think it should be first to 100 [points] wins, and if you don't make it to 100, play out the 48 minutes.

Q: Speaking of rule changes, you're a big NBA fan and Los Angeles Lakers supporter. What do you think of the NBA attempting to alter its schedule and postseason format?

A: I'm a traditionalist when it comes to the NBA. I don't want too many changes; the game is great. It's just the garbage time that has to be fixed; [24 seconds] on the clock shouldn't take [24] minutes to play out. Put it that way.

Q: When are you going to convince Kobe Bryant to give the league a shot?

A: I've asked him, and he said he was done. I believe him. I'm not going to harass the man; if he's done, I don't want him in the Big3. I only want you in the Big3 if you still got that chip on your shoulder; if you still want to play and show people that you're the best.

Q: What's your stance on the state of the NBA right now, especially with the Lakers once again thriving, and the Clippers right there, too?

A: It's great -- the Lakers are looking good. They look like the best team in L.A. The Clippers are looking OK; we'll see. To me, it doesn't get real until the playoffs start, so I'm just waiting.

Q: What team wins the Western Conference if it comes down to it – Lakers or Clippers?

A: [Laughs] Lakers, man.

Q: It's not like the Clippers are slouches. They are pretty good, too.

A: They are. They're the dippers [laughs].

Q: How about the NFL? I know the Los Angeles teams didn't make it, but give me your predictions?

A: I got the [San Francisco] 49ers, and I got the [Tennessee] Titans.

Q: You have any desires to own an NFL or NBA team?

A: No. Owning a league is cool. Owning a team is a nightmare.

Q: What is one piece of financial advice you would give to a young entrepreneur?

A: Trust and believe in yourself. Trust and believe in your ideas and find people who know how to do the things that you don't quite know how to do yet. And always hire the best no matter race, creed, color, or gender.

Q: And how about a stock tip?

A: [Laughs] Buy low, sell high. That's all.