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A League of His Own

Former Wahoo Roger Mason Jr. heads up new BIG3

(L-R) Jeff Kwatinetz, Rashard Lewis, Allen Iverson, Ice Cube, Kenyon Martin, and Roger Mason Jr. attend a press conference announcing the launch of the BIG3 in New York City. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for BIG3

Former Virginia basketball star Roger Mason Jr. (Arch ’03), who played for seven teams during a 10-year NBA career, has a new gig. Last December, Mason left his post as deputy executive director of the NBA Players Association to become the commissioner and president of BIG3, a barnstorming 3-on-3 summer league for retired NBA players that is the brainchild of rapper/actor Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz.

Virginia Magazine: On the surface, your career move sounded a little risky. What were the factors that made you feel comfortable in taking the leap?

Roger Mason: My time at the NBA Players Association was so valuable. I was able to dedicate my time to giving back and helping current players. After another successful [collective bargaining agreement] that we negotiated with the NBA, I felt like my work was done, and the mission was accomplished.

VM: Ice Cube has stated that he feels a little bit like Walt Disney in that he thinks he has this great idea, but it’s going to take so much work for it to come to fruition. How much has this consumed you, and what are your day-to-day duties and responsibilities?

RM: Obviously a start-up is time-consuming. Although it’s been a lot of fun, there hasn’t been a lot of sleep. Starting from scratch and really building out with a small infrastructure, it’s been anything you can imagine. We’ve been all hands on deck—whether that was putting together presentations for the sponsors or reaching out to the players to give them a vision of what this league would look like.

VM: What did getting Allen Iverson on board mean to the league, and were you involved with his recruitment?

RM: Getting Allen to be a part of this was huge. It signaled the fact we were getting buy-in from Hall of Famers. I picked up the phone and told A.I. about what we had going on. At first, he didn’t quite understand what we were doing and he turned it down. But when I called him back and told him I had left the Players Association and that I was going in 100 percent on this—and that Ice Cube was involved—he had a change of heart. He saw the vision. [Editor’s note: Iverson was suspended for one week after he failed to show up for BIG3’s Dallas event on July 30.]

VM: Does the recent decision to make 3-on-3 basketball an Olympic sport beginning in 2020 give the Big3 more credibility, and do you think we might see players from your league in the Olympics someday?

RM: Yeah, I absolutely think it validates professional 3-on-3 basketball. It’s great for our league. It’s great for our players who have the potential to represent the USA in the Olympics. There’s still a ways to go, but it would be great to be a part of that conversation. We’ve been in touch with USA Basketball and we look forward to working with them.

VM: The BIG3 has a number of innovative rules. What was the thinking there, and which ones do fans seem to be enjoying the most?

RM: I don’t think there’s any doubt that the 4-point shot is one of the most exciting BIG3 rules. The thinking behind the 4-point shot was to create even more space out on that court. It’s a shot that rewards highly skilled players. In this day and age of basketball, range is becoming unlimited—guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson shooting the ball from distance.

VM: So many start-up sports leagues have failed. What, specifically, makes you think this league has staying power?

RM: I think the secret sauce behind the BIG3 is the model and concept of a traveling league during the summer when there’s not a lot of programming on television. As basketball fans, we have basketball hangover after the NBA Finals. We get a little taste from Summer League, but for the most part, there’s no real competitive league that a basketball fan can watch. All these [players]—they have a brand and a following. We’ve really leveraged the celebrity of our players.

VM: How will you gauge success?

RM: It’s going to be measured in many different ways. For the players, it’s giving them the competition they yearn for and that they enjoy the experience. Clearly, for us, our television ratings are important (BIG3 has a deal with Fox Sports). And in the first year it’s making fans understand what the BIG3 is and to continue our promise, which is competitive basketball—old-school physicality with a new-school approach to the game.

VM: Many athletes at UVA graduate from the College, but you were in the Architecture school. What made you choose that path, and how did that decision shape where you are today?

RM: I started off as an economics major and then transferred into the school of Architecture because I’ve always been interested in buildings and structure. It’s symbolic of who I am. I love to build things. I love the process of putting a plan together and seeing it through.

VM: With the success you’ve had in your post-playing days, do you have any career advice for fellow Wahoos?

RM: It’s never too early to start exploring your interests. While I was playing, I took advantage of any opportunity (through the Players Association) that would allow me to see what I might want to transition into, so by the time it was time to transition, I knew the things I didn’t want to do and had a strong idea of the areas I wanted to move forward in. Seeing the things you may not want to do is just as important as finding the things you do want to do.

VM: If the BIG3 is successful, any chance it could come to John Paul Jones Arena next year?

RM: Yeah, it’s definitely something we would consider. I loved my time at UVA. If it worked out, it would be awesome to have a weekend down at JPJ.