Week 3 of the BIG3 kicked off in Oakland, CA with close to 14,000 fans in attendance who came out to represent The Town and watch Ice Cube's 3-on-3 basketball league highlight former NBA standouts. Halftime performances by homegrown hip-hop artists, Too Short, Mistah F.A.B. and E-40, helped to represent the Oracle Arena's cool Bay Area vibe. It was evident that the spirit of the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors' third NBA title win in four years was still in the air.
In its second season, the BIG3 has been resurrecting the spotlight for many of its players; becoming somewhat of a fraternity for those who still got juice. Nate Robinson, former NBA All-Star and co-star of this summer's Uncle Drew, is one of them. Robinson, who had a short stint with Golden State, discussed the impact the Warriors are having on the game.
"When I was here, Klay (Thompson) and (Stephen) Curry....the way they shoot the ball every practice against each other, competing everyday, I was like, 'man, they are going to be doing this in the games like it's nothing,'" exclaimed Robinson. "And now look. They've turned the faucet on and can't turn it off. The water is running. They're fun to watch. My kids love them. Now you got Boogie (DeMarcus Cousins) here. That's even more dangerous. Now you can't help anywhere on the court. I hope guys are ready to play their one on one defense because you ain't going to be able to help it against the Warriors."
Another breakout star of the BIG3 - maybe even the biggest, depending on who you talk to - is Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Abdul-Rauf reintroduced himself last season to a whole new generation of basketball connoisseurs after being blackballed by the NBA over 20 years ago for protesting the American national anthem. In his 2nd season with the 3-Headed Monsters, Abdul-Rauf continues to shock crowds with his elusive presence on the court, setting up for his still lethal signature 3-point shot.
In the final game of the evening, the Killer 3's were on the verge of tarnishing the 3-Headed Monster's undefeated record. However, Abdul-Rauf came in to score his team's final 14 points; including knocking down the game winning three; sucking the air out of the room.
Last season, the BIG3 Championship slipped away from the 3-Headed Monsters, so Abdul-Rauf is keeping his eyes on the prize.
After the game, Abdul-Rauf spoke to the history of great shooters who electrified Oracle Arena while recognizing his own standing in the game. "To be 49 and still able to move the way I'm moving," he reflected. "To make those shots, especially in the (NBA) champions' gym with the history that they have here....a lot of prolific scorers and shooters. But, we're really just trying to focus on winning this championship."
Off the court, Abdul-Rauf remains humble about his iconic stature as a socially conscious voice in the sports world.
"There were many of those who set the tone before me and that were inspirational; Muhammad Ali, Paul Robeson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos," Abdul-Rauf explained. "Not that this was my intention to be recognized, I'm just trying to live the best life I can and stand for something. It's just nice to be recognized for it and still be able to play this game; a game that you spend most of your life honing your skills to develop and that you still love."
"It's not about the money. When you still get pissed off when you have a bad game, that means you still care for it. It's beautiful to be in this position."
Someone who understands that is Hall of Fame point guard and Oakland native Gary Payton, who marvels at the fact that he's coaching a former peer, the 49-year-old Abdul-Rauf.
"Last year, nobody wanted to take Mahmoud at an age 48. But I seen him and he was a third pick in my draft and I was a number 2 pick and I know what he can do," Payton proclaimed. "At 49 years old, you see he put on a show to win a basketball game for me. He's been sticking with me. He didn't play a lot last week. He wasn't playing a lot this week because of the big size. But when I put him in the game he steps up and does what he has to do."
Payton can understand stepping up and showing out in The Town. Born and raised in Oakland, Payton knows the city is a breeding ground for legendary basketball talent and how much that means to its culture. "Oakland is a city that wants basketball. They're winning championships now. Golden State is winning championships, " Payton stated. "We've been used to this winning tradition around here for a long period of time. (BIG3) is a winning league and it's great basketball so they know what great basketball is."
With the Warriors set to move across the Bay in a year, Oakland fans could be left with a void the new arena may not be able to fill. There's a generation of fans who fell in love with the game despite the home team being hard to watch at times. Yet, it still gave Oaklanders an outlet to take pride in and a means to escape some of the harsh realities that The Town had come to be known for. In recent years, three NBA championship celebrations and a BIG3 League appearance have helped to shine the light on Oakland, showing the world the beauty of its people and surroundings through the lens of basketball. Hopefully, this won't be the last time fans have the chance to see some of their favorite players play in the BIG3.
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