Can Ice Cube's New League Give This Ex-NBA Captain One Last Shot?

Can Ice Cube's New League Give This Ex-NBA Captain One Last Shot?

Rashad McCants of Trilogy goes up for a shot over Andre Owens of 3s Company during Week 3 of the BIG3 three-on-three basketball league at BOK Center on July 9, 2017, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

SourceRonald Martinez/BIG3/Getty Images

Why you should care

Because the BIG3 could be Rashad McCants’ big chance.

After using a pump fake to get Derrick Byars up in the air, Rashad McCants drained the game-winning 3-pointer in Week 4 of the inaugural season of Ice Cube’s BIG3 league. He then snuck up behind a sideline reporter and shouted “Big Baller Brand!” Though not endorsed by LaVar Ball’s athletic apparel company, which caught flak for the owner’s ludicrous comments (boasting he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one back in the day, for example), he condones its mission. “It’s not about [LaVar Ball]. … It’s about the next generation of athletes, understanding that they can take it a step further in entrepreneurship,” McCants tells OZY. “As a black athlete, it’s my duty to support anyone who’s coming out and starting their own brand.”

McCants, 32, has himself been rebranded in Ice Cube’s BIG3, a three-on-three league that launched this year. Previously labeled as mercurial, moody and selfish, the 2005 lottery pick lasted just four years in the NBA. One NBA insider (who asked not to be named) told OZY that players disliked playing with him, and coaches found him difficult to coach. But McCants has thrived in the BIG3, averaging 18.25 points for Trilogy, the league’s only undefeated team. “He’s a great, coachable player,” says Trilogy coach Rick Mahorn.

It was a different story in the NBA. Once stripped of his captaincy by the Minnesota Timberwolves, McCants was released by the Sacramento Kings in 2010, and then the Cleveland Cavaliers claim he never showed up for their summer league. That was it for him in the NBA, even though he averaged a respectable 10 points per game. “He’s one of the best offensive players I’ve ever seen,” says Matt Doherty, McCants’ head coach at North Carolina during his freshman year. “It’s a shame he didn’t have a more productive career.”

The BIG3 has dealt [McCants] the chance to extend, and end, his basketball career on his own terms.

The hotshot who dated Khloe Kardashian during his NBA days was reduced to traversing the globe for five years, going from the D League to leagues in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, China, Brazil, Lebanon, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. “The NBA kind of turned their back on me,” McCants says. “A lot of the international teams — I don’t want to say blackballed — but they lowballed me.”

Though he earned a reported a $7.6 million in the NBA, McCants never saw the lucrative second NBA contract that typically follows one’s rookie deal. From 2010 to 2015, he says he was “completely broke.” The BIG3, which pays its players $100,000 plus a percentage of the overall pot, was the windfall he needed — both for his career and his finances. “They gave me a chance when I was at my darkest moments in my life,” McCants says. “They helped me resurrect myself.”

Some might peg him as the worst kind of pro athlete — a bad attitude wasting prodigious talent — but even if that narrative were to fit, it overlooks a surprising generosity. Active in a community service organization called Per Diems Against Poverty, McCants donates his weekly BIG3 per diem to food banks. And at every stop on the BIG3 tour, he hands out free tickets to children at the Boys & Girls Clubs.

While such charitable endeavors often go unreported, McCants created something of a firestorm three years ago when he told ESPN’s Outside the Lines that he took bogus classes — and routinely skipped class altogether — as a student at North Carolina. The NCAA has yet to formally sanction or clear the university, which remains embroiled in an academic scandal. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he tells OZY. “I just know I did my part. I did what’s right and I did what I felt needed to be done.”

As a result of his comments to ESPN, McCants has become persona non grata among the Tar Heel faithful. When the BIG3 played in Charlotte in Week 2, boos rained down on him. Some fans even yelled, “Snitch!” but McCants says he enjoyed returning to North Carolina because his family was able to see him play for the first time in years. They watched him score 13 points to help Trilogy to a 50-37 victory against the 3 Headed Monsters.

That was just one of the victories for the 8-0 Trilogy, a team that’s seen a different McCants. He has belied the characterization of a player who fought with coaches through his college and NBA days. “If we got in an argument or something, it’s not an argument, it’s more of a discussion,” Mahorn says. “We understand each other.”

As the BIG3 season continues through August 26, could McCants’ performance be enough to persuade Big Baller Brand to sponsor him? “I would love to be a part of whatever they’re doing,” McCants says. “But I don’t think I’m a big enough stick here to warrant any kind of attention from them at this point.”

McCants has ordered a pair of Big Baller Brand shoes and plans to wear them for the BIG3 action — though not in the NBA, which he humbly admits isn’t in the cards for him. Nonetheless, the BIG3 has dealt him the chance to extend, and end, his basketball career on his own terms. “I learned from my own mistakes,” McCants says. “I just want to be able to close the chapter in my life.”

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