Five ways to improve the Big3 basketball league

The decision-makers running the Big3 basketball league took a look at their on-court and television product after the league’s debut in Brooklyn and implemented changes for Week 2 in Charlotte.

Games were shortened from 60 points to 50, with halftime taking place once one team reached 25 points. The league’s self-reflection and willingness to change its rules is a positive sign for its future success.

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Sporting News attended Week 2 of the Big3 at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center and left with ideas for future improvements to the league. Some are as simple as changing a rule, as the league did with its point limit, while others are more ambitious and would take longer to implement.

1. Don’t allow games to end on a made free throw.

Two of the four games Sunday ended when the winning team made a free throw. It was as anticlimactic as it sounds.

In Game 2, Stephen Jackson of the Killer 3s was whistled for a flagrant foul as he wrapped up Cuttino Mobley as Mobley drove to the hoop. Mobley’s team, Power, led 46-45 at the time, setting up for what should have been an exciting finish. Mobley instead was awarded two 2-point free throws (more on that in a second) and he made both, ending the game.

The Mike Bibby-led Ghost Ballers defeated Allen Iverson’s 3’s Company 50-45 on a game-ending free throw as well.

The Big3 has four types of free throws, ranging from a 1-point free throw that is awarded in an and-one situation to a 4-point free throw that occurs when a player is fouled while attempting a 4-pointer. The same goes for 2- and 3-pointers, depending on where the foul occurs.

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End-of-quarter plays in the NBA are among the most exciting in basketball, and while the Big3 has a point limit rather than a time limit, the league could recreate a similar game-is-on-the-line feeling in the arena by refusing to allow games to end on a free throw. The Big3 should implement this rule: If a player is fouled while shooting and the subsequent free throw would allow the offensive team to win the game, the offensive team will instead maintain possession with a new shot clock.

2. Expand the 4-point shot.

Arguably the most exciting play in basketball, categorically speaking, is a dunk. Due to the Big3’s halfcourt setup, combined with the increasing age and declining athleticism of the league’s players, dunks are hard to come by in the league. While I did spend time in the interview room and didn’t witness every minute of Big3 action on Sunday, I only saw one dunk.

So how can the Big3 compensate? The 4-pointer is a good place to start.

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The court has three 4-point circles — one at the top of the key and one on each wing, well behind the NBA 3-point line — and a player only needs to have one foot in the circle to get credit for a 4-pointer.

In four games Sunday, Big3 players were 6 of 19 from the 4-point circles. Chauncey Billups and Mike Bibby were both 2 of 5 on their 4-point attempts, but no one else made more than one.

The 4-point circles are a great idea. They make the league different from standard 5-on-5 basketball, it’s an exciting play for fans to witness and 4-pointers provide a last-ditch strategy for a losing team to trim its deficit.

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Expanding the 4-point zone from three circles to an arc that spans the entire court would give players more opportunities to make 4-pointers and make the long-range offensive strategy less obvious than it is in its current format, where it’s easy to spot a player running to a 4-point circle.

3. Develop stronger brands for the eight Big3 teams.

Right now the league has eight teams: 3 Headed Monsters, 3’s Company, Ball Hogs, Ghost Ballers, Killers 3s, Power, Tri-State and Trilogy. There are individual players — e.g. Iverson, Bibby, Brian Scalabrine, Rashard Lewis — who will undoubtedly receive attention from fans and media across the country, so the league needs to find a way to compose and promote its rosters so that fans become loyal to one or two teams and even root against one or two in a WWE-esque fashion.

This will by no means be a quick and easy process. Part of the league’s success will hinge on continuing to draw popular ex-NBA players and keeping them healthy.

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Rashad McCants, the former North Carolina player who has spoken out about “paper classes” at the university, experienced a not-so-welcome homecoming to the Tar Heel State in Week 2. He was loudly booed, even though he claimed to not hear anything, during player introductions and every time he scored or committed a foul. McCants won’t receive such a hostile reaction during other stops on the Big3’s tour, but at least for the Charlotte stop, the crowd was more involved, and the environment was more exciting.

If the Big3 can continue to draw big-name players who fans love, or love to hate, the league will be better for it.

4. Unveil surprise guests in each city.

This improvement follows along with the idea of McCants playing in Charlotte, where one disgruntled fan yelled, “Boo, snitch! He’s a snitch!” Having players with ties to the host city is better for the league.

Some of the stops on the Big3’s 10-city tour will have no problem drawing fans and celebrities, such as Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but each city should have at least one guest player who isn’t revealed until the day of the event. This is unquestionably an extreme example, but imagine if Michael Jordan suited up to play when the Big3 came to Charlotte.

The Big3 goes to Lexington, Ky., for Week 7 and the University of Kentucky has produced more than enough capable basketball players. Imagine if each of the eight teams added a former Kentucky great to their rosters. Rupp Arena would go wild.

Having at least one, but ideally several, surprise player(s) for each stop of the tour would add suspense, intrigue and hometown flavor. That would be especially valuable in the smaller markets.

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5. Draw more celebrities to Big3 games.

In Week 2, LL Cool J, singer Anthony Hamilton, Hornets players Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith were in attendance. So was the league’s co-founder, Ice Cube. The camera crew wasn’t shy about putting the celebrities on the Jumbotron, and fans flocked to them throughout the event.

If the Big3 can turn into a traveling version of Madison Square Garden or Staples Center, where A-list stars are known to sit courtside during games, the league will be elevated to another level.

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