Throughout his 17 years playing in the NBA, Chauncey Billups racked up plenty of accolades.
In 2004, he won a championship with the Detroit Pistons and was named Finals MVP. He was selected to five All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams. He also made his presence felt off the court, winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2008, the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award in 2009 and league’s inaugural Teammate of the Year Award in 2013.
Now at 40 years old, Billups is staying busy with several new ventures. He’s one of the headliners of the BIG3, the new professional three-on-three league featuring former NBA players. He’s also thriving as a broadcaster for ESPN and continuing to do charity work.
HoopsHype caught up with Billups to discuss his excitement about the BIG3, a big ticket giveaway he’s doing, how NBA point guards have changed from when he played, what it takes to beat a super-team and much more.
Last time we talked, the BIG3 was in the very early stages. Now we have much more information. Your co-captain will be Stephen Jackson and Charles Oakley will be your team’s player/coach. As the BIG3 season gets closer to starting, how excited are you?
Chauncey Billups: My excitement continues to grow and it’s going to be a competitive league. The guys who retired and are playing in the BIG3 didn’t retire because they couldn’t play anymore, it was just because Father Time is undefeated. But you never lose that desire to play and compete. It’s also going to be fun to have that fellowship with teammates again. I’m excited for it. I think it’s going to be a very, very good league. Personally, I’m excited to team up with Stephen Jackson. He’s someone who, I think, could still be playing in the NBA today. He’s still in shape and he can still play. I’m excited to have Oak as our player/coach. He’s a guy whom I’ve always looked up to and I have a ton of respect for him. And I’m looking forward to filling out the rest of our roster, the rest of our team. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
That was my next question for you: You’re also the GM of your team, so what are you looking for as you evaluate players for the draft?
CB: Obviously, we have a point guard and a wing player – and me and Jack will talk about who we should go with – but we definitely need guys who can play big. I’d like a guy who can pick-and-pop and shoot the ball because there’s obviously going to be a lot of pick-and-roll play. I’m also looking for guys who can defend. And I think we do need another guard – a point guard or shooting guard – who can handle the ball. We have to make those picks count.
You’ve always been very active in the community and worked with a lot of charities. Now I hear you’re doing a BIG3 ticket giveaway for children. Can you share the details?
CB: One of the best things about this BIG3 league, and one of the reasons I was down to play in it, is that they’re going to do a lot of great things in the community. In every market we go to, we’re going to do something special for that community. You know how I feel about that; I’ve tried to be involved in that throughout my entire career. With this first game, I’m giving away $5,000 worth of tickets to be split between two different organizations.
The first is the Nepperhan Community Center, which was founded by Dr. Jim Bostic, who I’ve developed a close relationship with. We’re doing a lot of things and will have even more things coming soon. I’m really big on the Nepperhan Community Center because they take in so many youth who are disadvantaged and they give them opportunities that they’d probably never have if it wasn’t for people who have a big heart. I’m someone who benefitted from organizations and community centers like that, so that’s near and dear to my heart and I’m excited to continue working with them. That’s the first organization and, with us opening the season in Brooklyn, it just made sense.
The other group is the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club. I’m on the board of the Boys & Girls Club in Denver, so I’ve done a lot of things with them. The Boys & Girls Club is a huge fraternity; it’s everywhere. It’s a great cause. Being able to donate these tickets and continue to work with these groups, it means a lot to me.
I love that the BIG3 has a four-point shot. Should I expect to see a lot of those from you?
CB: It all depends on how the game is going. First and foremost, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. If four-point plays are a part of that, cool. But more than anything, we just have to see how it goes. That isn’t something that’s ever been an option. It’s a long, long shot. We have to think about the strategy behind it, so we’ll see.
Have you been working out for the BIG3? I know you’re busy with broadcasting, but have you been training on the side?
CB: I’m just now starting to work out. I had a little bit of work done on my meniscus not too long ago – about eight weeks ago. So because of that, I’m just starting to get going with my workouts. But I’ll right there and ready when the time comes.
You’ve done a really good job as a broadcaster with ESPN. How have you enjoyed the transition to broadcasting?
CB: I really like it. I enjoy the chance to educate the viewers when it comes to my mindset and what I think about the game. I love that I can have my own opinion. I don’t have to agree with anybody. I can say whatever I feel about the game or certain teams and players. That’s been great for me. Working with Jalen [Rose] has been great; he’s a pro and he’s unbelievable at it. And Michelle Beadle is a great host, she’s fun and she loves the game. She’s a basketball junkie. Then, when Tracy McGrady is on the show, it’s cool because T-Mac and I were rookies together in the NBA at one point. So, of course, our bond shows and shines through since we’re such good friends. It’s been great.
From when you were playing to now, how has the point guard position changed? Some of these guys are asked to do everything for their respective teams, and most are asked to be a lead scorer. What changes have you noticed?
CB: It’s changed a lot. When I came into the league, it was a big man’s game. You played through the bigs and then only secondarily did the point guards make plays – even though there were some great ones in the league. Now, the league is pretty much point-guard driven. Most of the time, the point guard is going to have the ball in his hands for a lot of the shot clock, which allows them to generate a lot of numbers. But these guys are so good and so athletic. They’re definitely more athletic than when I came into the league.
The only thing that I don’t really like about where the position has gone is most of these guys aren’t being held accountable to take care of the basketball. There’s a lot of turnovers, and I know a lot of it is the usage. But we were really held accountable; if you turned the ball over, you weren’t going to play. And if you weren’t going to defend, you weren’t going to play. The lack of accountability is the only thing I don’t like. But I love all the point guards, and how talented and how skilled they are.
These days, there’s a lot of talk about super-teams with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2004, you and the Pistons took down a Lakers super-team that had Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton and there’s this perception that you did it without a ‘star’ leading the way.
What does it take to beat a super team? What do you need to have to beat a team that may more talented on paper?
CB: Well, you have to have a toughness within and a belief within. You and your guys need to believe that you are the best. No matter the names, no matter how many commercials, no matter how many All-Star [selections], no matter the MVPs the other team may have, you have to believe it. You have to believe that you can beat them. And you have to do it together, especially when you don’t have the type of talent that you’re facing [when you’re up against a star-studded team]. It has to be a collective collaboration. You have to be tough-minded. You have to be willing to scrap. You have to be willing to get at them and bite down when the going gets tough.
In those scenarios, the super-team has most of the pressure on them since they have the stars. They’re the favorites. Is that an advantage, being an underdog and having the pressure off of you?
CB: Yeah, it can be an advantage. You’re playing with house money. But, at the same time, if you believe in yourself, you feel like you’re going to win. So you do have something to lose, right? To the general public, they may say, ‘Oh, you have nothing to lose! There’s no pressure!’ But within the team, we’re thinking, ‘No, we do have something to lose. We have a championship to lose!’
I have to ask you about the MVP race. Two point guards are seemingly leading the discussion: Russell Westbrook and James Harden. You’re obviously a point guard. Which way are you leaning and why?
CB: You know what, man? I lean back and forth. I still haven’t been able to pick a winner. Both of these guys are having historic seasons. I’m a guy who likes to reward winning. I also like to reward playing and these guys have both been very durable and played all season long, which I really respect.
I think what Russell is doing stat-wise, it’s the best season I’ve ever seen. I think it’s the best season most people have ever seen, just from a stats perspective. Also, for him to get triple-doubles, I think it’s harder for him to do than for James. Russell doesn’t have a bunch of knock-down shooters around him, so he can’t just drive and kick it out to guys for the easy three and assist. It’s been tougher for him to be able to generate the numbers that he’s generating, but that’s just a testament to how great he is.
On the flip side, James is having one of the greatest individual seasons we’ve seen from a player as well! If Russell wasn’t playing this well, we’d still probably be saying, “Wow, this may be the best season I’ve ever seen out of a player,” because of what James is doing. James’ numbers are great, they’re winning and he’s just playing with a different energy and spirit this year. I give him a lot of credit for that. It’s definitely going to be a close [MVP] race.
Is there a point guard in the NBA today that sort of reminds you of yourself?
CB: The closest guy is Dame Lillard. He’s the guy who, more than anyone else in the league, reminds me of myself – when it comes to his demeanor and his big-shot-making ability and he’s out there fighting for every win. Also, he leads, he tries to do the right thing and he loves his teammates. Dame is the probably the one. We’ve developed a relationship and talk sometimes.
Interview, Top, Charles Oakley, Chauncey Billups, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Shaquille O'Neal, Stephen Jackson, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers