Bob Wojowski, John Niyo and Rod Beard of The Detroit News talk about the new-look Pistons. The Detroit News
There will be no comic asides of Curly Neal dumping a bucket of confetti or Meadowlark Lemon hiding the ball under the jersey or the other gags with the referees to entertain the crowd.
It’s not the Harlem Globetrotters — and there are no Washington Generals as the lovable but predetermined losers.
It’s the Big3 — and it’s real basketball.
The 3-on-3 basketball showcase brings its festival atmosphere to Little Caesars Arena on Friday, the fourth stop on the weekly cross-country caravan. After dazzling crowds in Oakland, Calif., with a pair of buzzer-beater winners, the pro league founded by Ice Cube makes its first trip to Detroit.
And it’s worthy of some attention.
It’s not just former Pistons icon Chauncey Billups playing for the Killer 3s or Bad Boy Rick Mahorn coaching the defending champion, Trilogy.
It’s the whole show.
In its second season, the Big3 has added some star appeal, with Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Rick Barry, Nancy Lieberman and Gary Payton as coaches. It’s former NBA standouts Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest), Carlos Boozer, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, Baron Davis and Corey Maggette.
Ice Cube and the Big3 brass are riding the wave, after getting 13,000 fans in Oakland last week and a growing national-TV audience on Fox Sports. Of the four games, three of Friday’s games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 — the opener will be on Facebook Live — but they’re looking to continue building a following, with some important lessons from their encouraging first season.
“We just wanted to get better. In Year 1, it was hard for us to get our sea legs under us because we were in the process of putting on games but also introducing and marketing the games and a new style of basketball with new rules to the audience,” Cube said. “There were a lot of things to learn — but we’re fast learners. We took into account everything we needed to do in the offseason to become a better league.
“That’s what we did. We were more prepared for the things we knew were coming this season. We became better presenters of the league and our players got in better shape and we got a better position on television by being live.”
Make no mistake: the Big3 is not a choreographed show, like the Globetrotters, but it’s not to the ultra-structured level of the NBA or college basketball, either.
They have a fair share of former NBA players, but many are into their 40s — and pushing 50, as in the case of Rauf, 49, who hit a late winning shot for the 3-Headed Monsters.
“There’s an entertainment value to the Big3. This is serious basketball, but it’s fun. There’s not going to be a lot of gimmicks — a 4-point shot is one — but the ABA introduced the 3-point shot,” said Jim Jackson, color analyst for the Big 3 broadcast. “That added more value and intrigue, something different. The competition is great and the guys get what it takes to play 3-on-3.”
The value of having some recognizable names also is part of the appeal, as the Big3 is garnering a significant audience of men aged 18-34. It’s also something of a history lesson for the younger generation, as they get to see some of the names they recognize still playing, even if it’s not in an NBA capacity.
Cube’s vision for the Big3 was built on seeing some of those names from his youth still get after it. He tried to incorporate some of the rules from the NBA, but with a few twists, like the longer Steph Curry-inspired 4-point shot and speeding up the pace of play by streamlining free throws.
It’s worked so far.
The games, though, aren’t the whole appeal. It’s more an extravaganza of basketball, with some icons on the court and on the sidelines.
“It’s already a festival atmosphere because you have basketball history in the building: Dr. J, George “Iceman” Gervin, Rick Barry and Nancy Lieberman and Rick Mahorn,” he said. “The players you have are All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers. We have first-round picks and first-overall picks and champions.
“It’s already a festival with four games for the price of one. It’s making its own magic — all we have to do is present it the right way. With Fox and Facebook, that’s what we’re doing.”
Fans will get to see Mahorn and Billups and even former Piston Jason Maxiell. There’s the Detroit pride, but also the basketball curiosity to see what’s there beyond that. Billups was rumored to be in the running to run the Pistons after their recent front-office turnover, but that didn’t work out.
Billups, though, is coming off an injury in the offseason and is working to stay healthy and play through the Big3 season.
“Seven straight Eastern Conference Finals means a lot. Chauncey Billups is a hero and in the Big3 he’s nothing less than a hero,” said league commissioner Clyde Drexler. “He’s a leader, people love him, Chauncey loves the game and he’s even at this stage a very fierce competitor.
“Chauncey is a gym rat and he loves to hoop; he’s perfect for the Big3.”
When: Friday; four games beginning at 6 p.m.; doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: Little Caesars Arena
Format: Three-on-three half-court basketball. A team wins when it reaches 50 points and leads by at least two points.
Trilogy vs. Killer 3’s, 6 p.m.
3’s Company vs. Ball Hogs, 7 p.m.
Tri-State vs. 3 Headed Monsters, 8 p.m.
Power vs. Ghost Ballers, 9 p.m.
Trilogy: Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, Al Thornton, James White, Dion Glover, Dahntay Jones, Rick Mahorn (coach).
Killer 3’s: Chauncey Billups, Stephen Jackson, Metta World Peace, Josh Powell, Alan Anderson, Ryan Hollins, Mike James, Charles Oakley (coach).
3’s Company: DerMarr Johnson, Baron Davis, Drew Gooden, Andre Emmett, Jason Maxiell, Derrick Byars, Michael Cooper (coach).
Ball Hogs: Brian Scalabrine, Josh Childress, DeShawn Stevenson, Andre Owens, Corsley Edwards, Jermaine Taylor, Rick Barry (coach).
Tri-State: Jermaine O’Neal, Amar'e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, David Hawkins, Bonzi Wells, Robert Hite, Julius Erving (coach).
3 Headed Monsters: Rashard Lewis, Reggie Evans, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Jamario Moon, Kwame Brown, Salim Stoudamire, Qyntel Woods, Gary Payton (coach).
Power: Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, Glen Davis, Xavier Silas, Ryan Gomes, Quentin Richardson, Chris Andersen, Nancy Lieberman (coach).
Ghost Ballers: Mike Bibby, Ricky Davis, Carlos Boozer, Marcus Banks, Lee Nailon, Mario West, George Gervin (coach).