Ice Cube's Big 3 league, which will feature former NBA stars playing 3-on-3 isn't going to be the only basketball league with former players this summer. The Champions League, a 16-team semi-pro league will run from July through August and will include players like Shawn Marion, Jamaal Tinsley and Al Harrington.
The league was first announced in 2015 and was scheduled to start play last summer, but the league underwent a rebranding phase. It used to be an over-30 league. The only requirement now is that players must have been on an NBA training camp roster at some point in the last three years. This allows players like J.R. Smith's brother Chris Smith, who briefly played for the Knicks, to play in the Champions League.
Smith, Tinsley and Harrington will play for the New York City-based Gotham Ballers, a team that has Walt Frazier and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe in their front office. But while Frazier and Monroe are managing the team, fans can actually become owners of the Ballers by buying shares of stock. These owners and fans will get exclusive benefits, and it's one way how the Champions League is truly embracing being a fan-friendly league.
The fan and community aspect is one of the main reasons Harrington has decided to play in the Champions League. He has been linked to the Big 3 league as well but Harrington is "on the fence" about actually playing, prioritizing the Champions League instead.
Harrington spoke with CBS Sports about the Ballers, the Champions League and his 16-year NBA career (this interview has been edited and condensed):
What attracted you to the Champions League?
Al Harrington: I thought it was a great opportunity for older players to continue doing what they love. I think a lot of us retired before we were actually ready, but this gives us the opportunity to still go out and get those competitive juices out of our system. And the main reason I wanted to be a part of [the Champions League] is because the league is very community-oriented and that really hit home for me.
Was the fact that you'd be playing in front of fans one reason why you decided to play?
AH: Yeah man, it's a huge difference. When you go to a gym and there's nobody there, it's not the same as playing in front of 20,000 people. When you got fans cheering and booing, it gets different emotions going in your body and makes it a lot more fun.
Who are going to be some of your teammates on the Gotham Ballers?
AH: We are still building the roster out, but right now: Jamaal Tinsley, Chris Smith, Josh Childress, Kenyon Martin and Shawn Marion.
And is this going to be similar to the NBA? Like, are you guys going to practice and run plays?
AH: I think we are going to have practices the night before games and we are also going to have a training camp and different things like that. During the season, recovery and keeping in shape is on us but at this point, we all know how to do that. We can do it in our sleep.
Was the chance to reconnect with some of your former teammates and rivals in that locker room type of setting another reason why you joined the Champions League?
AH: That wasn't one of the main reasons but I definitely missed it. I sit at home sometimes watching games and start to think about some of the stories and events that happened in my career. The locker room was just entertaining as the games. With these guys, all we do is reminiscence about when we played against each other or when we dunked on each other and different things.
You were drafted out of high school. At that time, did you think you would have such a long career?
AH: No, man. My story is kind of funny, I didn't start playing basketball until I was essentially in high school. I never dreamed about playing in the NBA as a kid but coach made me play because I was 6-foot-4. And I fell in love with the game and the game fell in love with me back, so I was able to have a great career that I will never forget. I'm just blessed to have played for such a long time in the greatest league in the world.
During your career, who had the greatest impact on you?
AH: Antonio Davis, he took me under his wing from Day 1. He taught me everything I know. He taught me how to pay my taxes, write a check, manage my bank account and he taught me how to work. He made sure I was the first in the gym, and the last one to leave. He taught me the type of work ethic needed to survive in the NBA.
Regret is a strong word but if you could change or do something different in your career, what would it be?
AH: If I had one regret, I wish I never left Indiana, I should've been a Pacer for life. I left thinking that the grass would be greener on the other side and it wasn't. But it still worked out for me, I was able to play for a lot of great teams with a lot of different players that I still have relationships with. It's not a real regret, but sometimes I wish I wore just one uniform my whole career.
AH: We were just young. That's why I said it was kind of a regret because if we all stayed together maybe two more years, we could've gotten a championship during that era. It was right there for us. Even the year that I left and they had [the Malice at the Palace], I think that year even without me, they had a good chance of winning the championship. It is what it is. It was just an experience thing and the Pistons had a little bit more experience than we did. We were right there but what could you do?
Are you surprised that Metta World Peace has shifted to more of a mentoring role in the later stages of his career?
AH: The thing about Ron is that he is one of the most sincere, real guys you will ever be around. So despite all of the crazy s--- he used to do, you always respected him. And you just knew that if you got in a pinch, he would be there for you. That's invaluable and I think the Lakers see that in him and that's the reason why he's still playing.
You also played with Carmelo Anthony, who seems to be always the subject of some sort of controversy. How was he as a teammate?
AH: Melo is a good teammate. I never had any issues with him and he never had any issues with anybody in the locker room. He always got his work in, so you respect him from that standpoint and he came to play at a high level every night. Some people may have issues on how he played but from a teammate standpoint, we understood who he was and we valued him for that. I think that's the key to playing with a guy like Melo. Instead of trying to figure out what's wrong with him, you have to embrace his strengths.
You also played with Stephen Jackson, who recently said he got high before games. Did that really happen?
AH: I could only report on what I saw and I never saw him high before a game. I think he's bulls------- and I don't think he ever did that.
AH: It was OK. We communicated, we never had any issues or nothing. George is an interesting person. He's not the type of coach that would put his arm around you. There is always this kind of uneasiness when you are around him. One of my first meetings with him was, at the time, disturbing. But after that, I knew who he was so I had no issues with him.
Why do you say disturbing?
AH: I just never had a coach speak to me like that before. He compared his coaching record to a player's record. I was just confused because I watched his teams play for years and I never saw George Karl make a basket. Without going all the way into it, it was just weird.
One of the stranger moments in your career was when you got two technicals against the Clippers for hanging on the rim when you played for the Knicks. In both cases, the Knicks had the lead and then ended up losing to the Clippers. Do you remember those instances and what happened there?
AH: Yeah, I remember. All I know is I see guys hang on the rim way longer than I did so that's just a ref calling what they wanted to call, when they feel like calling it. I see LeBron hanging on the rim, pulling himself up on it and they don't call it. That's such a high-school call. I don't even know why they call that in the NBA.