Kobe Bryant’s final game was the inspiration for the BIG3 basketball league, Ice Cube recently told Sports Illustrated, and it’s no secret that the entertainer has continuously lobbied the Los Angeles Lakers legend to join his cast of former NBA players. What was surprising was a report that Cube’s co-founder, Jeff Kwatinetz, told reporters on a conference call that they had successfully recruited Bryant.
The report went viral on social media, with fans seeking confirmation from both Cube and Bryant to no avail. The BIG3’s PR firm provided audio of the conference call to Yahoo Sports with a clarification: While Kwatinetz “didn’t say it was happening,” he did note that “he heard it from a credible source.”
Here are the actual responses from Cube and Kwatinetz to a question about Bryant’s BIG3 interest:
Cube: “We have a list of people that we would love to see, I think the fans would love to see. The fans would love to see Kobe, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Anybody who still has the passion to play. We don’t want you if you don’t have the passion to play. If Kobe doesn’t have the passion to play at this level, then it’s better for him to watch on tv. If he has the passion, then here we are.”
Kwatinetz: “I did hear from a credible source that Kobe is going to be playing next year. That’s something, but it may be nothing.”
Cube: “That would be amazing.”
That’s far from a commitment from Bryant. This might be the first time in sports history that a league owner has cited an anonymous source to tell reporters that a legendary athlete might be coming out of retirement. Or might not. “It may be nothing” is not exactly Kobe faxing the BIG3 to say, “I’m back.”
Within hours of this report, Kobe Inc. chief marketing officer Molly Carter shot down any hope of seeing Bryant in a Ball Hogs uniform next year, according to Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press.
You would think the league’s owners would be the first to know if Bryant was joining their league, because that would be a massive boon to the fledgling 3-on-3 professional basketball showcase.
The original report was met with skepticism, even before we clarified what Kwatinetz said. After all, we’re only two months removed from this exchange between Bryant and HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy:
Do you have any interest in playing in Ice Cube’s BIG3 league at some point?
KB: No. (Long pause)
KB: No. Cube is a good friend of mine and he’s asked me repeatedly, but the answer is always going to be no.
This month, rumors that Kobe might come out of retirement to join LeBron James on the Lakers led to this Instagram response from his wife, Vanessa Bryant: “Kobe will not be coming out of retirement to play again. He doesn’t want to play again and frankly we really enjoy spending time together as a family without the crazy game schedule interfering with birthdays, holidays and special events.”
You’ve got to respect Cube’s business savvy, playing on Bryant’s competitive spirit — “If Kobe doesn’t have the passion to play at this level” — as if he’s daring the five-time NBA champion to join the BIG3.
Asked recently by a reporter if “Bryant could handle this league with it being more physical inside,” BIG3 player Stephen Jackson said, “Kobe can play in any league. Any league. Kobe, right now, listen. You listening? Want me to slap him for you? Can you please come to this league? We need you.”
That’s something, but it may be nothing. Yeah, it’s nothing.
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