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Architect of Gangsta Rap. Actor in family-friendly movies. Outspoken social activist. Founder of an innovative new 3-on-3 basketball league.
Ice Cube has carved out a niche in so many different sectors of the entertainment industry that it makes him a fascinating interview subject.
Yahoo Sports caught up with Ice Cube this week in China as he is in the midst of negotiations to bring the Big 3 to a new market. In a wide-ranging 30-minute conversation, Ice Cube addressed how he fell in love with basketball, what it was like hearing his music on the radio the first time, his five-year vision for the Big 3 and why Los Angeles will never be a Chargers town.
Yahoo Sports: I know you and your friends used to sneak into the Forum to watch Lakers games when you were a kid. Was that when you started to fall in love with the sport?
Ice Cube: I’ve been in love with basketball since I was 9, 10 years old. That’s really about the same time that Magic Johnson became a Laker. When he became a Laker, I got really into it. I remember playing in my backyard wishing Magic would drive by, come back there and play with me. We couldn’t afford to go to the Forum for games, but my neighbor’s big brother, he worked the door. He would let us walk in the turnstile without scanning a ticket. Once we got in there, we would walk around and watch or see somebody move and jump in their seats. It was just cool to see basketball at that level. The forum was not too far from my house. To know that the best team in the world was playing five miles from where you live and you’re in the building smelling the popcorn and feeling that vibe, it was just magical.
YS: Do you have a favorite memory as a Lakers fan?
Ice Cube: It was a game that we snuck in, it was a blowout and people were leaving. We snuck down by the floor, right by the tunnel. I remember Magic was coming out the tunnel, and I was right there. I was like, ‘Hey Magic!’ He was like, ‘Hey young dude’ And he slapped my hand and kept going. I just remember he had the softest hands I’d ever felt from a man. I was used to feeling my daddy’s rough-ass hard-working calloused hands. Magic’s hands were soft as a baby.
YS: The past few years have obviously been tough for the Lakers. If I made you GM for the summer, what would your strategy be? Go after LeBron? Try to trade for Kawhi? Keep building around the young guys?
Ice Cube: I would see what I’ve got with my young guys, but if you have superstars on the market, it would be irresponsible not to go after them. Especially if you have cap space. But I would bring in one guy at a time. I wouldn’t bring in two superstars because it just doesn’t work with the Lakers from my experience. I remember getting Gary Payton and Karl Malone same year, and it just didn’t work. I remember getting Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, and same thing. It just don’t work. So bring in one guy, a guy who’s just going to make his teammates better so everyone is good when it’s time to play for a championship.
YS: Take me through how you came up with the idea for the Big 3. Is it true that watching Kobe score 60 in his final game was somewhat of an inspiration?
Ice Cube: I was inspired before that, but that was the last straw. As a fan, I was a little beside myself that there was nowhere I could go and pay to see this guy play anymore after 20 years of going to watch him. It’s a little selfish, but I felt like there were more people out there like me. I called Jeff Kwatinetz and I’m like, ‘Man, we’ve got to figure this out. There’s a lot of guys who still have gas in the tank and people will still pay to see play, but they have no way to play against their peers. I was like, ‘This 3-on-3 idea that I’ve had works perfectly with these players.’ So we took the merger of two ideas and thats how it really started.
YS: You’ve partnered with Fox and Adidas and grown the Big 3 quite a bit in just one year. What’s your five-year vision for what the league can become?
Ice Cube: My five-year vision is that it becomes part of the fabric of American sports, or even world sports, where people are looking forward to the Big 3 like they do the NBA or the NFL. I really want them to look forward to the Big 3 like OK the [NBA] Finals are over — especially this Finals — let’s see some more basketball with players that we’ve learned to love over the years.
Another aspect is the growth of 3-on-3 basketball. In five years, you’ll have seen this played in the Olympics, which to me will finally get people to realize that 3-on-3 is here to stay. We’ll have the pro version of it and we want to elevate it not only here but around the world. I’m in China right now talking to people like Yao Ming to try to bring Big 3 China into existence. I’m doing the same thing in Brazil, so the vision is to create a World Cup style game of 3-on-3 basketball. We’d have the best teams from around the world hopefully coming to America and competing in our league.
YS: You see some ex-pros who can still play and then you see some guys who look like they haven’t shot a ball or lifted weights once since they retired. How often do you approach a guy about playing in the Big 3 and he’s like, ‘No way man. I’m done.’
Ice Cube: We had first-year growing pains. Guys didn’t know what to expect, whether it was a pick-up kind of thing or like an all-star game or something. What happened was a real league broke out and it became survival of the fittest. Some guys tried to work themselves into shape as the season went along because it’s a fast game with a 14-second shot clock. Guys realized real quick that, yo, this is grueling as an NBA game even though it doesn’t seem like it should be. This year, it won’t be an issue as much because our guys are in shape, chiseled, ready to go. They know what it takes now.
What you’re going have now, and what we have had, is guys who say, ‘Dude, I can’t compete on that level anymore. I’m done.’ And if you’ve got a big name but you can’t compete anymore, we don’t want you anyway. We don’t want your name. We want your game.
YS: Have you tried to recruit Kobe?
Ice Cube: I believe Kobe is done. But you never know. That’s what is great about the Big 3. Whenever you get that itch, whenever you feel like hey man, I want to ball some more, then we’re here.
YS: Let’s switch over to music for a second. When was the first time you remember hearing one of your own songs on the radio and what was that experience like?
Ice Cube: I was in a group called Stereo Crew, and we did a song [released by] Epic Records called ‘She’s a Skag.’ We cut the song, and we think, ‘Oh man, we’re on Epic Records. We’re about to be rich.’ Then we never hear the song on the radio. I’m like, ‘Damn, what’s going on?’ This was my education to the music business. Just because you did a song doesn’t mean that everyone is going to run out and buy it.
Weeks go by, months go by, and one day I was with Dre at the swap meet. That was where Dre started doing his mix tapes from, and I started talking about what was going on in the hood and it really honed in the style that we needed to do. So we’re leaving the swap meet, we just bought a fistful of records to sample and do all that stuff, and they played ‘She’s a Skag’ on the radio. I almost lost my mind. I’m like, ‘Turn it up!’ I thought every car on the street was listening to it. It was one of those moments where I felt like, ‘Damn, we got over the hump.’ The song never picked up any traction. I probably heard it on the radio like three more times, but it was still the coolest thing.
YS: Diss tracks have been in the news lately with the beef between Drake and Pusha T. You of course wrote one of the great ones of all time with ‘No Vaseline.’ What makes a good diss track and do you have a favorite one from another artist?
Ice Cube: You’ve really got to hurt feelings to get a good diss. It’s about hitting ’em where it hurts. I’m not really into going after kids, family members and wives and stuff like that. I think certain things are overboard. But I do go for the jugular, and I do think you have to inflict pain to have a great diss and you’ve got to be clever in how you present that diss.
The song that I think is one of the coolest diss records is from 50 Cent. It’s called “Back Down” and he’s dissing Ja Rule. To me, it’s almost a perfect diss record as far as song, beat, rhyme, delivery and potency.
YS: I know you were traveling, but did you see that Lonzo released a diss track on Kyle Kuzma this week?
Ice Cube: What? Lonzo Ball?
Ice Cube: Is it a real diss? Or just kind of you diss me, I diss you?
YS: It’s honestly hard to tell. He goes pretty hard.
Ice Cube: It’s cool if it’s a publicity thing I guess, but it’s whack if it’s not. It’s like what the hell is going on? Somebody might get traded. Might make Magic’s job a little easier.
YS: Let’s finish up with a couple quick hitters. You’re starting an NBA team. Would you rather have Michael in his prime or LeBron in his prime?
Ice Cube: You go with Michael. It’s nothing to do with game or numbers. I think it’s between the ears. Mike is wired different. LeBron is physically gifted. He walks in the door better than most players because of his physical stature. Jordan willed himself better. He makes himself better than you, he takes your confidence from you and he steps up to all challenges. I want this guy. I’m locking him down. Not today. That’s what you want in a basketball player. I want that mentality of taking no prisoners and destroying your enemy.
YS: Los Angeles has two new NFL teams now, the Rams and the Chargers. Is this a Rams town? A Chargers town? Or still a Raiders town.
Ice Cube: Please. It’s a Raiders town, but the Rams are starting to reestablish their position that they had before they moved. I don’t know what the Chargers are doing. It’s a mess. They’re in the way. Nobody wants them. They’re getting booed when they play the Raiders in their own stadium. That’s pretty pathetic.
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