NEW YORK -- Allen Iverson was on the bench, and the Barclays Center crowd was not happy about it. The Hall of Famer was technically a player, coach and captain of 3's Company -- one of the eight teams in the BIG3 -- but the fans weren't there to see him coach. Their "We want AI" chant was just as loud as the ovation Iverson received when he was introduced in the starting lineup.
Iverson, 42, only put himself in the starting lineup because he wanted to avoid this situation. He knew what everybody wanted, and he knew he didn't have a whole lot to give. Despite being winded, he checked himself back in. Every time he touched the ball, there were cheers. His burst, however, just wasn't there.
When Iverson hit a midrange jumper, the arena erupted. It didn't particularly matter that he was 1-for-5 at the time or that Josh Childress would easily score over him on the next possession. For those who never had a chance to see him in his prime in person, or for those who did and want to reminisce, this new 3-on-3 league provides an opportunity to see him put on a basketball uniform and perhaps buy some new merchandise with his name or likeness on it. There were Iverson jerseys everywhere in Brooklyn. One guy even supplemented his with a white elbow pad and a black shooting sleeve. No word on how he felt about Iverson only playing nine minutes.
When Iverson said that, "You're not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there," it was an understatement. The BIG3 is not the NBA, nor is it "the most competitive basketball league in the world" aside from the NBA, as Power coach and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler described it. But it isn't supposed to be. There are three spots on the court, several feet behind the 3-point line, where shots are worth four points. If you're fouled while shooting a 4, you get one free-throw attempt worth four points. Games are first to 60, and teams must win by at least two points. All of this and more was explained by a cartoon version of Ice Cube, the league's founder, on the jumbotron at about 1:15 p.m. ET, shortly before the first of four games tipped off.
This format is, broadly, successful. Players attempted 4s, but only sparingly -- on opening day, they went a combined 4-for-20 in four games. While Brian Scalabrine's jersey read "W. Mamba" on the back, the event did not feel like a joke or a circus, nor did it blur the line between basketball and entertainment like the Harlem Globetrotters or the And-1 Mixtape Tour and its imitators. This may be a traveling basketball nostalgia tour, but the participants, recently retired NBA players, treated it like a real competition. Hand-checking and hard fouls abounded. Some players even said that the refs will need to do a better job of cleaning things up.
"I saw guys get wrestled out there, to the floor, no call," 3's Company's DerMarr Johnson said.
Iverson said he got goosebumps and flashbacks of "when you were that guy and everybody was coming to see you perform, not just to show up." He hasn't played competitive basketball in years. He said he is a part of this only because Ice Cube asked him to be the face of the league and he wants to give his "true fans" a chance to see him.
Outside of the courtside celebrities and the coaches -- Charles Oakley, Rick Barry, Gary Payton, George Gervin, Julius Erving and Rick Mahorn were also in the sideline -- no one else was there to play a ceremonial role. If you go see the BIG3, you'll see Ricky Davis launching jumpers with abandon, Jermaine O'Neal posting up and Jerome Williams barking at the crowd. You'll also realize that it's a great thing that they're not playing full-court, as -- to put it diplomatically -- some guys are in better shape than others.
DeShawn Stevenson, who dramatically drained a game-winning 3-pointer for Power, claimed to be thinner and more agile than he was in the NBA, crediting this to his decision to go vegan and his last six or seven months of training. Andre Owens of 3's Company, who had a nine-year career overseas before retiring from basketball, said he wants to use this opportunity to show that he belongs in the NBA. Power's Cuttino Mobley, on the other hand, said this is all about camaraderie, adding that he'll need "a lot of alkaline water" and "a lot of running" go get ready to play again next week in Charlotte.
As pumped and positive as the players sounded after each game, it's worth noting that this didn't quite go off without a hitch. Jason Williams had to leave the first game after injuring his knee, and the same thing happened to Corey Maggette in the second one. A few hours later, Kenyon Martin suffered what he called the first pulled hamstring of his career. With a talent pool mostly made up of players in their late 30s, this shouldn't be entirely surprising.
Will America embrace this new league? It's impossible to know just yet whether it will have any staying power, and, as fun as it might be in person, the question of whether people will watch the tape-delayed broadcasts on Monday is another subject entirely. All that can be said for sure is that Iverson remains as magnetic as ever, even for the players in his orbit.
"That's my guy," Owens said. "I grew up doing his moves, trying to play like him, so at the end of the day, him playing and coaching me, telling me, 'Go out there and just play, he can't guard you, go right past him,' the sky is the limit." Owens then lifted his arms and extended them wide. "The rim looks this big now."