From TV deals with CBS to London’s O2 Arena hosting the 2023 Championship, hear the ambitious aims for Cube’s 3-on-3 empire.
As 20,000 fans and the aroma of fish and chips fills the dome that previously hosted events for the 2012 Olympics, Cube will be partaking in his own relay race. But he won’t be running through his storied setlist of hit records nor promoting a blockbuster film.
Rather, he’ll be watching his basketball brainchild, the BIG3, play its 2023 championship game.
The sixth season of the halfcourt startup will conclude play along the Prime Meridian, bringing Cube’s brash brand of 3-on-3 basketball to land where a certain type of football is king. It’s another bold move for the rapper who once battled the FBI and is now competing with the NBA.
“With a new league, you need a big stage to grow,” Cube told Boardroom. “It’s been amazing growth. I think we’re going to be the fastest professional league to profit since UFC — and we’re gonna beat them.”
Pulling no punches, Boardroom sat down with Ice Cube to dissect the business behind his brazen sports venture. Learn about the birth and international expansion of his league that’s employing Hall of Famers, influencing FIBA, and is just getting started.
Cradle to the Grave
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s, O’Shea Jackson saw some things.
Raised in a high-crime neighborhood, the young wordsmith developed a fighting spirit from his surroundings. At home, he was taught to build with the resources around him.
“My father and brother put a basketball hoop in the yard,” Cube said. “And it was the most amazing thing to see. I saw my father make the backboard out of wood. I saw him paint it the same color as the garage and put the rim up there.”
Playing 3-on-3 with his pops, older brother, and neighbors planted the seed for a love of the sport. Seeing his family build their own court created a DIY approach to hoops even if All-City accolades weren’t in the cards for a 5-foot-8 shooting guard.
Being bussed 40 miles away to school and missing basketball tryouts due to fall football practice deflated his hoop dreams as a student. But ever true to the game, he kept the rock with him as his name rose in music and film.
In the ’90s, he’d hoop on tour and on set, challenging rival radio stations to games against his crew and cast. By the ’00s, he was playing in the NBA Entertainment League at actual arenas in front of fans for charity. Around that time, a lightbulb flickered on.
“I saw that it could work,” Cube said. “If you had the right ingredients? People would come out and see games from the people they know. That got the juice turning for the BIG3.”
With so many famous friends across sports, music, and entertainment, Cube’s contact list was enough to vet interest in a 3-on-3 basketball endeavor, but his vision was far from a lay-up where funding was concerned.
“It’s definitely a heavy lift to start a league from scratch,” he said. “But with anything I’ve done and learned to do, you have to make sure you have the right people around you.”
From the jump, this meant calling in longtime entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz to co-found the league.
“We’ve been able to bring our entertainment instincts to sports,” Cube said. “We’ve been working together for over 25 years. We take calculated chances because we go with our instincts and it’s gotten us this far. My instincts have gotten me to the Walk of Fame. The structure is solid.”
Both Cube and Kwatinetz possessed high-level production experience, proximity to top talent, and ins at arenas all over the world. However, to make the basketball component compelling enough to gain traction and attract funding, Cube had to assemble a cast of bankable stars.
He had to hire his heroes.
When Cube was playing 3-on-3 as a kid on the hoop his father built, the roundball world around him was spinning fast.
In the ’80s, the NBA Finals made the jump to live telecast after years of tape delay. The Showtime Lakers proved profitable in The Forum and on CBS as a new era of superstars spoke to fans first locally, then worldwide.
Around the same time Magic Johnson was running the break, Cube was writing his first thesis: NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. The 1989 album put Cube on magazines and the map, making him instantly recognizable to basketball’s best.
30 years later, these commercial waves would cross when Ice Cube began calling the likes of Julius Erving, Michael Cooper, and Rick Mahorn to lead his league.
“We started with Hall of Famers as our coaches,” Cube said. “You can’t have a stronger foundation than that. It sends a signal to the world that we have something serious here.”
Leaning into legends, Cube and Kwatinetz additionally recruited Lisa Leslie, Rick Barry, and Gary Payton as BIG3 sideline leaders. Next, they inked deals with All-Stars like Joe Johnson, Allen Iverson, and Kenyon Martin to fill out the league’s rosters.
The buy-in from the NBA’s elite increased the confidence of the rookie sports exec set on starting his own basketball brand.
“That’s how we knew the league would work and it was a good idea,” Cube said. “When those guys started to say they wanted to be a part of it.”
Just as Cube gleamed credibility from hoop Hall of Famers to ensure the gameplay was top-notch, he pulled lessons from his life in film to make sure that the finished product — both in-arena and on TV — was as good as it gets. This meant hiring behind-the-scenes talent that was the best in the business to raise the game for all involved.
“If you surround yourself with the best, you play at a higher level,” Cube said. “It was the same attitude. You start with the best and build from there. Those instincts helped when it came to putting the league together.”
Having starred in or produced in movies that have grossed over $2.4 billion to date in his career, Cube knows the ropes from sound engineering to lighting.
Still, it’s the silver screen where sports leagues earn their keep.
Numbers on the Board
Despite cord-cutting and mobile madness, live sports are still best consumed on traditional television.
Because of this, TV rights deals are imperative for the growth of leagues of all sizes. That holds true regarding the growth of the BIG3 both internally and externally.
“It took us two years to get off tape delay,” Cube said before a slight reconsideration. “Really, one.”
Since starting from scratch in 2017, Cube was able to broker a broadcast deal with cable network FS1, which aired the seminal season, in order to set the table for Fox proper partnering for year two. In 2019, Cube took his talents to CBS Sports Network, which currently carries BIG3 action.
That support from CBS keeps the lights on for BIG3 as it matures. Just the same, it shines a spotlight on the league for a national audience yearning for more live sports during long summer months without the NBA, NFL, or college football and hoops.
“That’s been paramount, to say the least,” Cube said. “Having a partner like CBS that believes in the league and understands that the league brings a different audience to CBS and entertains the audience they already have? We see that we’re both in a unique and amazing position.”
Thus far, BIG3 viewership is said to have grown year-over-year over the course of its six-season existence. Furthermore, the same metric has seen week-over-week increases over the course of the current season.
In 2023, viewership is said to be up nearly 10% compared to that of 2022. On given weekends, the BIG3 on CBS has outperformed Premier League soccer on NBC and the WNBA on ESPN in similar time slots. It’s a win for Ice Cube, as well as for CBS and parent company Paramount Global.
“We have something new for their audience and they have a big stage for our game,” he said. “It’s been an amazing partnership. You can watch three BIG3 games in the same amount of time you can watch one NBA game. They love it.”
As currently constructed, CBS networks air half of the games played by the BIG3. While he’s open to working with regional sports channels to cover the gaps, Cube’s stayed ahead of the curve by meeting modern audiences where they are. He launched Big3tv in 2023, clearing a path for all games not on national television to be streamed live around the world.
Flying overseas for season six’s grand finale, he’ll find out just how much momentum the BIG3 has abroad.
Live From London
When Cube comes off the plane and lands in London this month, he’ll have just finished hosting his first BIG3 playoff weekend in Washington, DC. It’ll be the cherry on top of a sixth season that’s covered the country from Dallas to Brooklyn and beyond.
The lifelong Laker fan will have already played host at Boston’s TD Garden, rocking the rival arena to the tune of 11,255 attendees — including the NBA’s highest-paid player, Jaylen Brown.
While winning market share in the country Cube calls home matters much, his desire to bring basketball to larger international audiences may mean more. Just as stateside fans salivate at the chance to watch foreign futbol stars strike at SoFi Stadium, Cube could be engineering a similar phenomenon for basketball abroad where the biggest names otherwise feel worlds away.
“We’ve been shown in over 40 countries,” Cube said. “We have fans everywhere and we know basketball is a global sport. We want to be global and we believe this game can be global.”
From the UK to Africa and from Asia to Australia, he sees BIG3 as relatable, too.
“Most people around the world play 3-on-3 because of space and infrastructure,” Cube said. “By us playing once a week, we can play pretty much anywhere in the world. We want the world to fall in love with the BIG3 like they fell in love with the NBA. When the NBA stops, we start. They can still enjoy top-notch professional basketball in a way that they probably play when they go out and play.”
As season six comes to a close in fitting fashion at O2, Cube continues to stay steadfast in ways to build the league. From a funding standpoint, he’s talking to investment groups about buying teams and attaching them to cities. Though the league travels and clubs currently float in regard to having a home base, outside buyers and attached locations could create fandom and funds.
Additionally, pivoting to that sort of model gives the BIG3 roots to grow the game in select markets. Currently, teams travel city to city once a week to play in front of fans. At each destination, the YOUNG3 outreach program hosts events where players instruct kids and elevate the 3-on-3 format.
It’s a halfcourt concept that’s been around almost as long as basketball itself, recently recognized as an Olympic sport. Cube’s timing feels prophetic but remains in motion. While he’s gotten great help from the likes of Monster Energy and CBS, Dr. J, and Microsoft, the grind doesn’t stop for the man who saw his own father build a basketball court in his backyard.
“It’s still from scratch,” Cube said. “We’re still in a lot of ways driving the train and putting the tracks down at the same time. But we believe we’ve calibrated the league in a way that’s competitive.”
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