“The NBA shut me out a long time ago,” Robinson said. “(Big3 founder) Ice Cube opened the doors for me, and I’m here to stay. I’m happy here. The NBA would be nice, but I put that in the back. I still work out for me but not to impress any coaches or GMs. I do it for me and my kids to show them what hard work is, even though I’m not playing at the level I think I’m supposed to be playing at. The NBA was fun. It was 11 great years, and I’m satisfied with that.”
But The Answer is gone — and the novelty has worn off a bit. Now the startup sports league co-founded by music legend Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz is wrestling with tough decisions. Call it the growing pains for a lezgue trying to crash the overcrowded U.S. sports market. The BIG3 is drawing crowds of around 10,000 fans per game this season. But well off from its average of 14,000 last season. And still down from averaging 11,500 during its first season in 2017.
Over recent weekends, BIG3 games averaged a 0.5 rating on the CBS broadcast network. That’s not great. But close to the 0.7 rating and 1 million viewers it drew for its second championship game in 2018. The deal with CBS is only for the 2019 season. But Kwatinetz is thrilled to be in business with CBS, America’s most-watched TV network.
The good news for BIG3? A league consisting of grizzled 30 and 40-something players, some with greybeards, has become surprisingly popular with millennials and Generation Z, both on TV and social media. Now BIG3’s eyeing events in China and countries where basketball is growing. “It is amazing when you think about it. We have the oldest players — and the youngest audience,” Kwatinetz said.
Larry Sanders still has an itch to play. He’s getting a chance in the Big 3. “Everyone loves basketball,” Sanders said. “We all like being on a team again. The camaraderie. That’s the kind of stuff we’re so used to.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are the only players left on the Bucks from Sanders’ time. He still follows the team closely and keeps in contact with his ex-teammates. “Usually if I reach out to someone, I get a response,” he said. “It’s all love.” Sanders has fond memories of his time in the city. “I’m a really earthy, on-foot person,” Sanders said. “Milwaukee was my first time really experiencing snow. So I was in a wonderland. Now five years of it kind of weighed on me. By Year 5, I had my routes. I had a spot on the lake that I would go to after every game. I had a certain spot on the lake. I’d just sit there in my car. I had my favorite tree. I had my trails that I would walk by the lake. I really took it in and had a great experience.”
Sanders lives in California now, spending most of his days working on music and art. Since Sanders detailed his battles with anxiety and depression, several NBA stars like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love have also come forward in talking about mental health. “I think a lot of guys feel a lot better about making decisions, stepping out and saying how they feel,” Sanders said. “And letting it be OK. Letting it be a real thing. We’ll look back at this time, 2019, and say ‘We were pretty prehistoric when it came to mental health. There’s a lot we didn’t know, a lot we didn’t tap into.’