The BIG3, a 3-on-3 professional basketball league, is making its Week 2 stop in Chicago on Friday, and there’s perhaps no one more excited to return here than former Bulls big man Carlos Boozer.
“There’s nothing better than this time of year in Chicago,” Boozer said Thursday before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox’ game against the Twins.
Boozer, who played four seasons with the Bulls, never thought he’d play at the United Center again after he officially retired last year. But the BIG3 allows retired NBA players like him to continue to showcase their talents and play without the rigors of an NBA schedule.
“This is not old-man basketball,” BIG3 commissioner Clyde Drexler said. “These are guys that can still play at the NBA level.”
In its second season, the BIG3, which was co-founded by rapper Ice Cube and entertainment industry executive Jeff Kwatinetz, has attracted a slew of former NBA stars, including Metta World Peace, Nate Robinson and Mike Bibby.
“We’re all a little older, we have a little bit more miles on our body, but it’s fun, it’s competitive,” Boozer said. “A lot of guys [talk] trash. It’s a lot more physical than the NBA. It’s kind of like the old-school [NBA].”
Though relatively new still, the BIG3 has a strong fan base that continues to grow. In Week 1, the six teams played their four games in front of a sold-out crowd of 16,341 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Ice Cube hopes to see a similar crowd size in Chicago. Last summer, the BIG3 was greeted by a sellout crowd of more than 9,000 spectators at the UIC Pavilion.
Ice Cube and Kwatinetz have been viewed as innovators, starting the league before the International Olympics Committee approved 3-on-3 basketball as a sport for the 2020 Tokyo Games. On Thursday, the BIG3 became the first professional sports league in the U.S. to allow cannabidiol (CBD) — the active constituent in marijuana — for pain management. The World Anti-Doping Agency previously removed CBD from its banned substances list earlier this year.
Asked about this development, Boozer said, “That’s Ice Cube.”
“Ice Cube understands at the end of the day this league is going to be different,” Boozer said. “He can do it however he wants to do it. Rules are very different. And at the end of the day, guys do have pain. Marijuana has been seen medically to help people with their pain. And Ice Cube feels like it’s OK for our league, so he passed it. And I’m sure there’s a lot of leagues that will end up following that later.”
Boozer, who struggled with retirement, said he’s grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the BIG3.
“Whatever sport you choose to play or whatever you end up putting your whole life into, it’s your first love,” said Boozer, who hasn’t played in the NBA for three seasons. “Like, basketball was my first love since I was 4 years old. So playing it for [so long] when you walk away from that, it takes some time. It is like a void.”