The BIG3 returns Friday, July 6th at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Find out how your favorite ex-Knicks have stacked up to the competition in Ice Cube’s league.

Put together an “All-Time Roster” for the Knicks. Let’s say 12 players. The list is nearly guaranteed to include names like Walt Frazier, Patrick Ewing , Willis Reed, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, etc.

Once the locks are in place, you can get into some of the more debatable stars. This section is always ripe for disagreement, depending on who you ask. Some fans wouldn’t even begin to question the legitimacy of Allan Houston among the greats, while others wonder if we were projecting too much of our dreams on his talent the entire time. Nearly all of us question whether Carmelo Anthony did enough to ever make the cut amongst the Knicks’ greatest. And the further down the timeline you go, slotting players into the appropriate categories along the way, you begin to make hard decisions about guys you always thought were a different species entirely from the rest of the league. It’s a moment that makes you realize that when it comes to your absolute-favorite players, you never really revered them for being a pinnacle of basketball performance, you loved watching them because they were simply fun.

The BIG3 is a tournament built primarily on that same sentiment of fun, but the stakes are present nonetheless. It’s an endlessly entertaining conglomeration of NBA storylines in their postscript, could-have-been teammate combos suddenly finding themselves combining strengths, basketball legends coaching on the sidelines and proving that they can adapt to a new set of rules, young players being bold enough to use the league as an attempt to raise their stock in scouts’ eyes, and much, much more. In year two of the BIG3’s existence, the level of talent took an enormous leap from the year prior, with players like Carlos Boozer, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis joining in the fray.

Somewhat ironically, many of the biggest new editions to the BIG3 this summer are ex-Knicks players. Joining returning Knicks alumni Mike Bibby (now swoller than ever), DerMarr Johnson, Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, James White, Chauncey Billups, and Charles Oakley come Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, Baron Davis, Metta World Peace, Quentin Richardson, and Qyntel Woods. The Knicks put together several rosters with various levels of success around these players. After seeing week two of competition for myself, let’s see how our hometown heroes are stacking up in the BIG3.

Game 1: Killer 3’s, 50, Ghost Ballers, 44

Killer 3’s roster: Chauncey Billups, Stephen Jackson, Metta World Peace, Alan Anderson, Ryan Hollins, Mike James, Charles Oakley (coach)

Ghost Ballers roster: Mike Bibby, Ricky Davis, Carlos Boozer, Marcus Banks, Lee Nailon, Mario West, George “Iceman” Gervin (coach)

Chauncey Billups sat this one out (and did not appear to be in the arena at all), but the real draw here is the reunion of Stephen Jackson and Metta World Peace. Jackson still embodies everything that made him special in the NBA. He scored a game-high 28 points while World Peace was active from the corner and camped in the lane. Long Island native Mike James barked out orders on the floor and coach Charles Oakley looked remarkably cool and collected. In the Killer 3’s post-game conference, Jackson spoke to how seriously the players are competing out there, which Oak and Metta confirmed. Those three at the podium together instantly makes this the toughest team in the league.

The Ghost Ballers were led by the activity of captain Mike Bibby, who had no problem finding passing lanes, driving through traffic, knocking down four-point shots, and getting in the officials’ faces. He was aided by Carlos Boozer, who received a huge welcome from the United Center crowd, and Ricky Davis with a huge smile plastered to his face the entire time.

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Game 2: Tri-State, 51, Ball Hogs, 34

Tri-State roster: Jermaine O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, David Hawkins, Bonzi Wells, Robert Hite, Julius “Dr. J” Erving (coach)

Ball Hogs roster: Brian Scalabrine, Josh Childress, DeShawn Stevenson, Andre Owens, Corsley Edwards, Jermaine Taylor, Rick Barry (coach)

Tri-State is the obvious team for Knicks fans to root for. Amar’e and Nate both brought tons of baggage along with them in New York, but this team gives us a chance to fully enjoy their games with no strings attached. Surprising, it was David Hawkins, a player who never made it into the NBA, who did most of the heavy lifting with 20 points. Stoudemire couldn’t get a bucket around the rim and Nate was quieted for much of the first half. But once the Ball Hogs started to find their stride, the 5’9″ guard went into sparkplug mode, nearly dunking over his opponent three separate times and eventually knocking down the game-winning step-back to seal the deal.

Ball Hogs are the obvious worst team in the tournament this year, with Josh Childress proving to be their most talented player at this stage in his career. DeShawn Stevenson was largely able to lock up Amar’e, but I honestly think that’s just an indictment on STAT.

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Game 3: Power, 50, 3’s Company, 44

Power roster: Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Glen Davis, Ryan Gomes, Quentin Richardson, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, Nancy Lieberman (coach)

3’s Company roster: DerMarr Johnson, Baron Davis, Drew Gooden, Andre Emmett, Jason Maxiell, Derrick Byars, Michael Cooper (coach)

Cuttino Mobley was the heart and soul of Power’s roster last season and the trend continued this year. Their biggest addition, however, has to be coach Nancy Lieberman, who managed to make a 3-on-3 team understand spacing and pace on route to the team’s second straight victory on the year. Quentin Richardson was energetic, if unspectacular, but filled the playmaking role on a team full of wings and bigs well.

3’s Company belongs to Baron Davis. Boom Dizzle was hot to start the game, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes and heating up again towards the end to pull his squad within six with Power on the edge of victory the entire time. Ultimately, his sweet shooting and glorious handles could not seal the victory, but it is safe to say Davis is fully recovered from his gruesome 2012 knee injury.

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Game 4: 3 Headed Monsters, 50, Trilogy, 34

3 Headed Monsters roster: Rashard Lewis, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Reggie Evans, Kwame Brown, Qyntel Woods, Salim Stoudamire, Gary Payton (coach)

Trilogy roster: Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, James White, Dion Glover, Dahntay Jones, Rick Mahorn (coach)

A rematch of last year’s championship game was met with quite different results. Trilogy went 10-0 to take the trophy in the BIG3’s inaugural season, and despite keeping the same core together heading into this year, they’ve suddenly found themselves in a 0-2 hole. Rashad McCants, last season’s MVP, didn’t score in the first half and injured himself early in the second. The burden was then placed on ex-Knick Al Harrington, who finished with 17 and managed to pull the team within 10 after starting the game down by nearly 20. Tensions soon became heated with 3 Headed Monsters’ Reggie Evans and Harrington was soon laser focused on retaliating against no calls and swatting at Evans, whose team left with the win.

Rashard Lewis scored an easy 21 points including the game winner, and Qyntel Woods (a deep cut ex-Knick) dropped 15 in his debut. 3 Headed Monsters start the season 2-0 and are well on their way to another impressive season.

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Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball tournament brings the most entertaining players back to the basketball world in an entirely new way. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss the BIG3 on paper as pro basketball’s most-washed veterans and NBA rejects at the rec center playing as long as their knees will let them, but to say that would be analyzing the league without context—without the subtext that we consider when attempting to comprehend even the most minute detail of the NBA landscape. The players who compete in the BIG3 are of this same world, most removed and retired, but some very much attempting to prove that they still are. Our own both beloved and maligned ex-Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire made headlines in his press conference, stating he will be back in the NBA for the 2018–19 season. When pressed on if that means he would not return to the BIG3 next season, Stoudemire adamantly stated no, adding that the best part about this league is that you can perform in both the BIG3 and the NBA in the same season.

Players driven to succeed at a higher level while still showing commitment to the BIG3 is exactly what Ice Cube’s tournament needs to grow even larger. It will never be the NBA, but it never will attempt to be and that’s why it will continue to grow. The stakes are lower, but the players you’ve loved time-and-again are still competing with the same effort they did on the day you became enamored with them. It’s some of the most fun basketball you can observe this summer, and that’s exactly why we watch.


All photos on this page copyright Anthony Corbo.