On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the heart of summer, the Chicago Cubs played host to the rival St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley. It was the first week of baseball since the All-Star break, and Chicago’s North Side team was finally starting to click as defending World Series champs.
But when baseball was supposed to rule the biggest city in the Midwest, a basketball event created by hip-hop legend Ice Cube took the city by storm. Cube’s 3-on-3 basketball league, appropriately named the Big 3, took center stage in the Windy City, on the southern side of town at University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.
Chicago, and specifically the “South Side,” has unfortunately garnered a reputation of being unappealing and dangerous. Fair or unfair, it was disappointing to hear people joking about “not getting shot” while I was in the beautiful city for the day, simply covering basketball.
Incredibly, the Big 3 event, in just its fifth week of existence, took away all of that possible danger, even if just for a day. The Pavilion was packed beyond capacity, with all of the seats sold out, and people sitting in folding chairs surrounding the miniature court for 3-on-3 competition. I have been to many sporting events, ranging from meaningless preseason games to season deciding playoff games, and nothing that I have attended quite compares to this.
People from all over the Midwest came to Chicago for this basketball event, which featured some big names, but was truly not the highest quality of basketball. NBA legends like George Gervin, Julius Erving and Clyde Drexler are coaches of a few of the Big 3 teams, but a certain player/coach brought the most fanfare to the event. He did not play in Chicago, but Allen Iverson was definitely the biggest draw, as many fans wore his jersey, and AI also got the loudest ovation at the arena.
Former Bulls Kendall Gill and Charles Oakley certainly got a lot of love at UIC, as four games total were played. Half of the games were competitive, including the final in which former Celtic Ricky Davis hit a game-winning shot for the Mike Bibby-led Ghost Ballers, coached by Gervin. Games are played first to 50 win by 2, and the Power, 3-Headed Monsters, and Trilogy also took home victories in Chicago, the latter-most improving to 5-0 on the season.
What is sold as a basketball event, though, was so much more. And most incredibly, who actually made it that way, was truly the biggest story for the fans on the day. Tickets for the event were also as low as just $20 for first-level seats, which is a very nice price.
Courtside, Big 3 Co- Founder Ice Cube sat with his wife, taking pictures with hundreds of fans, ranging from seven-year-olds to people with 60+ years under their belts. Sitting just a few seats away from Cube was Twista, a Chicago rapper with a reputation of being one of the fastest MCs in the world. On the opposite side of Ice Cube, which will come as no surprise to pop culture fans, was Chicago’s beloved son, Chance the Rapper. Chance of course wore his signature black Sox hat, and got what seemed to be the biggest ovation for a non-player or coach.
Cube obviously created this event, and the two rappers are both Chicago natives, which makes sense, but here’s where it gets interesting. Sitting about five seats from Twista, rocking a new short red hair-cut and a striped shirt, was none other than one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2016 and Empire star, Ms. Taraji P. Henson. Henson made conversation with Ice Cube and Chance, a site that I never thought I would have seen heading into the day.
But the biggest surprise of the day, and quite possibly the highlight of the entire event, took place in between the third and final games. Wearing a bright red shirt and black Nikes, longtime rapper DMX stepped onto the court, and performed a mini-concert for the fans in the Pavilion. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes sang along to X’s Ruff Ryders’ Anthem, a picture that won’t be quickly forgotten. Everyday folks weren’t the only ones getting into it, though. Henson danced to the party track, former Laker Brian Cook (yes, he’s still around) rapped along to the words, and even former rapper and Big 3 Co-founder Ice Cube got into it, quietly dancing around on the sideline and embracing with DMX after his performance.
As previously alluded to, most of the actual basketball was average quality at best, but former NBA All-Star Rashard Lewis, longtime veteran Mike Bibby and throw back players like Cuttino Mobley and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf all showed that they can still play, leading their respective teams to victory on the afternoon.
It is unclear how long this brand new event will last, but with the initial interest, lack of real expense and mix of athletes and celebrities new and old, the Big 3 event is certainly a cultural spectacle that is worth the small price to pay, no matter where it takes place.