Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf lined up on the right wing and released the 3-pointer with a sweet stroke that seemed to have never left. It hung in the air for a few seconds before the game-winning basket massaged the nets and sent the crowd at Oracle Arena into a frenzy.
That same evening, Baron Davis did the same — his shot coming from the top of the key, giving his hometown fans in Oakland a reprise of what they had seen for so many years in his NBA career.
That’s what the Big3 brings: 3-on-3 pro basketball stuffed with the nostalgia of some of the NBA’s best players in the 1990s and 2000s. It’s a trip in the Wayback Machine for a collection of the game’s big names, like former Pistons All-Star Chauncey Billups and Davis, Kenyon Martin, Jermaine O’Neal and others.
It’s somewhere between “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Uncle Drew.”
These old men can jump, though — and they can shoot.
The gray-bearded Abdul-Rauf is 49 years old and Davis 39. They’ve rebooted their games to fit the traveling basketball bonanza, which comes to Little Caesars Arena, with four games Friday night, beginning at 6.
For Big3 founder and music mogul Ice Cube, that feeling is part of the reason he conceived having the tournament, for fans to experience what he saw in the some of his favorite players. In its second year, the Big3 is garnering bigger crowds and expanded to 10 weeks, including 13,000 fans last weekend in Oakland, with two game-winners on 3-pointers.
“I’m not surprised anymore. He’s 49; I kind of expect it,” Cube said of Abdul-Rauf’s shot. “I’m more surprised when he misses than when he makes it. That tells you how good he really is; he’s a master when it comes to basketball. It’s a treat to watch him play.”
That’s the Big3 at its best — there’s still a high level of competitiveness, but it’s not nearly at an NBA level. The rules are a bit different, taking into account the age and athletic state of most of the players. There are some dunks, but the games feature more veteran savvy.
The play is more physical inside the paint and the jump shots don’t fall as often as they used to in their NBA days, but’s still competitive.
The half-court games are up to 50 points — with halftime at 25 points — and a team must win by at least a two-point margin; scoring is by standard two-point and NBA 3-point shots.
The team with possession gets a 14-second shot clock and the opposite team gets possession after a made basket. The Big3 also boasts three 4-point spots, which are 30 feet from the rim and add another element for defenders by not having a whole arc around the court.
“The first to 50 makes you play the whole game because you never know — hit a couple 4s and you can come back,” Cube said. “It was important to make a circle and not an arc because we wanted to make it something you could defend.
“The defender has a chance to get there and it’s more defendable than the arc, so you have fewer 4-pointers. We thought that was good for the game, to make it a specialty thing and not a thing where dudes were launching them all game and it looks like a carnival.”
The Big3 also streamlines the process for free throws, which can be time-consuming in normal play. If a player is fouled on a two-point try, he gets a free throw worth two points, or one 3-point try for a 3-pointer, etc.
“Who wants to see somebody shoot three free throws — or worse, four free throws?” Cube said. “We felt like this adjustment makes the game better and speeds it up. We don’t have a (game) clock — having a clock gives players an excuse to quit or stop playing hard.
“The last few minutes of the game could be unentertaining.”
With some of the legendary names coaching, including Julius Erving, George Gervin and Rick Barry, there’s more nostalgia on the sidelines. Even for Pistons icon Rick Mahorn — who coaches Trilogy — there’s a feel for the Big3 coming back to his old stomping grounds.
“It’s great to come back to Detroit because a lot of people love old-school ball,” Mahorn said. “You wonder what guys are doing and you get to see them come out and play.
“I want (fans) to see that these guys are still competitive. It’s the camaraderie and that they still have something left in the tank.”
Just like old times.
When: Friday; four games beginning at 6 p.m.; doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: Little Caesars Arena
Format: Three-on-three half-court basketball. A team wins when it reaches 50 points and leads by at least two points.
Trilogy vs. Killer 3’s, 6 p.m.
3’s Company vs. Ball Hogs, 7 p.m.
Tri-State vs. 3 Headed Monsters, 8 p.m.
Power vs. Ghost Ballers, 9 p.m.
Trilogy: Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, Al Thornton, James White, Dion Glover, Dahntay Jones, Rick Mahorn (coach).
Killer 3’s: Chauncey Billups, Stephen Jackson, Metta World Peace, Josh Powell, Alan Anderson, Ryan Hollins, Mike James, Charles Oakley (coach).
3’s Company: DerMarr Johnson, Baron Davis, Drew Gooden, Andre Emmett, Jason Maxiell, Derrick Byars, Michael Cooper (coach).
Ball Hogs: Brian Scalabrine, Josh Childress, DeShawn Stevenson, Andre Owens, Corsley Edwards, Jermaine Taylor, Rick Barry (coach).
Tri-State: Jermaine O’Neal, Amar'e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, David Hawkins, Bonzi Wells, Robert Hite, Julius Erving (coach).
3 Headed Monsters: Rashard Lewis, Reggie Evans, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Jamario Moon, Kwame Brown, Salim Stoudamire, Qyntel Woods, Gary Payton (coach).
Power: Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, Glen Davis, Xavier Silas, Ryan Gomes, Quentin Richardson, Chris Andersen, Nancy Lieberman (coach).
Ghost Ballers: Mike Bibby, Ricky Davis, Carlos Boozer, Marcus Banks, Lee Nailon, Mario West, George Gervin (coach).