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Big3 Playoffs 2018

Gary Payton is talking. A lot. He's in jeans and sneakers and a button-down shirt and although his assists-per-game these days are zero, his words-per-minute are still up there. From the serious look on his face, this might as well be pregame for the '96 NBA Finals with Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins at his side. Yes, he retired in 2007 after a brief stint with the Miami Heat (which netted him an NBA championship in 2006), but he looks relatively the same.

In fact, the players on the team he coaches, the 3 Headed Monsters of the Big3 basketball league, and on his opponent's team, 3's Company, look relatively the same as well. Fourteen-year NBA veteran Drew Gooden and 13-year NBA veteran Reggie Evans could easily use their basketball cards from their playing primes and be recognized ... which is the first half of the equation when it comes to why the Big 3 is catching on.

They're still them, if that makes any sense.

Hanging out in the bowels of the American Airlines Center on this Friday night, during the playoff round of Year 2 of Ice Cube's Big 3 experiment is like flipping through an NBA yearbook from the 2000s and early 2010s.

There's six-time NBA All-Star Jermaine O'Neal!

There's three-time NBA dunk champion Nate Robinson!

Big3: Corey Maggette, Nate Robinson

There's Chauncey Billups and Stephen Jackson and Metta World Peace!! On the same team!!

They all look pretty much as they did when they played in this arena against the Dallas Mavericks. Save for a few more gray hairs, a few more missed shots and a few less dunks, these guys can still ball. Better yet, they're all motivated to show you they can still ball.

That's the other half of the equation for the Big3's formula for success: Big names playing good, hard basketball for affordable prices.

Also, the format is refreshing. The Big3's roots are just as much embedded in the driveway games we all grew up playing as they are in the NBA. The game is half-court and they even created their own version of bombing it from your porch or from the grass across the street or behind a tree: the 4-point shot, which is a stroke of genius.

Every single time a player circles one of the three 4-point circles on the court, the crowd stirs and gets ready to jump out of their seats if he shoots. If the ball goes in, they go nuts. It's the closest thing basketball has to the home run. Each shot hangs in the air just long enough to build anticipation and whether games are tight or a team is down by a lot, the 4-pointer can help launch a major comeback or put a team away. It's a nice, new look and in the end, it's just a fun wrinkle to add to a fun league.

Gary Payton Coaching Big3, 2018 Playoffs

In fact, fun is probably the number one word Ice Cube would like people to use when describing his creation. The Big3, above all else, is meant to be a good time – both for the athletes and for the fans.

From the retired NBA players' perspective, they get one more shot to entertain, compete, be on television, create highlights and build a legacy in a new league.

From the fans' point of view, while the NBA is in its off-season, where else are you going to see basketball legends like Payton and Dr. J roaming the sidelines, barking instructions at one-time NBA stars like Amar'e Stoudemire or goofing off with old lovable NBA characters like Glen "Big Baby" Davis?


Payton is now done talking. He, along with Reggie Evans, a few trainers, a security guard and myself, are watching the closed circuit television, which is showing the end of the first semifinal game of the night, between Tri-State led by David Hawkins, O'Neal, Stoudemire, Robinson and Bonzie Wells and Power, headed by Corey Maggette (the recently announced league MVP), Big Baby, Cuttino Mobley, Quentin Richardson and Chris "Birdman" Anderson.

Many of those guys were All-Stars. A bunch of them have NBA championships. All of them are taking this seriously.

Big3: Nancy Lieberman, Chris Anderson

The game comes down to a last-second shot and a last-second call from an official that affects the outcome. Depending on which squad you were rooting for, either the better team won or Tri-State got hosed. While in the short-term moment the actual call mattered, what mattered more in the long term is that it really mattered to the guys on the court. They argued. They yelled. They pleaded with the refs. They calmed each other down. The fans ate it up.

The moment the game was decided Payton grabbed his players and headed to the court for warm-ups, where each player got their own introduction on the Jumbotron worthy of the classic Chicago Bulls starting lineup from the mid-90s; music, lights, graphics, the whole works. For basketball junkies, it's cool. For casual hoops fans, it's a fun night out.

After each game there is a press conference, just like in the NBA or college, and the players talk about the game, how they felt at certain points, what the win/loss meant to them and whatever else the journalists throw at them. It's professional and official and the only difference is the players have no problem grabbing selfies with the media members tasked with helping them spread the word about their fledgling league.

There's a sense of camaraderie – a sense that everyone wants this to work out for the long haul.

With rumors (and they're probably only rumors) that Kobe Bryant might join the league next year the future for the league could be very bright. But even if the Black Mamba passes and the league only showcases the White Mamba (Brian Scalabrine), if a few more big name All-Stars join after they retire, that's a win for the league.

If they do this right, rather than the G League, this could be the NBA's O.G. League, with stars stocking every roster.

The dream scenario is that in 15 years we get to watch Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden suit up together for a Big3 game, just like their Oklahoma City days.

Of course I'm rooting for that, which means I'm rooting for the Big3.

Jon Finkel is the award-winning author of The Athlete, Heart Over Height, "Mean" Joe Greene, The Dadvantage, Forces of Character and other books about icons, fatherhood and fitness. His work has been endorsed by a range of luminaries, from Spike Lee and Tony Dungy to Jerry Jones, Kurt Warner and Jeff Van Gundy. He is the co-host of the Life of Dad Sports Show, an avid speaker and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Finkel.