Corey Maggette Returns to BIG3 to Defend His Championship, His MVP and His Health

The BIG3 will soon be back for its third season, with more teams, more cities and a new broadcast partner (CBS Sports Network). To celebrate the impending return of Ice Cube's three-on-three basketball league, CloseUp360 spoke with five notable hoops luminaries involved in the league, who will be serving as players or coaches on the circuit this summer. Up first is Corey Maggette, a 14-year NBA veteran who was named BIG3 MVP in 2018 and is the captain of Power, the defending champion.

In two years with the BIG3, Corey Maggette has already added an entire volume to a basketball life story that included 14 seasons in the NBA. In the summer of 2017, the Chicago native tore his Achilles during his very first game in Ice Cube’s then-nascent three-on-three basketball league. Last year, Corey led Power, coached by Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, to the BIG3 championship and was named league MVP by his peers.

While Corey is undoubtedly aiming to defend both of those titles, his goal going in is much more modest, but no less important: keeping his team healthy. During the BIG3’s recent media day in Las Vegas, Corey spoke with CloseUp360 about his time in the league, how he’s connected (and reconnected) with other longtime pros off the court, his broadcasting career with the Los Angeles Clippers and more.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)  

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Corey Maggette will be looking to defend his BIG3 championship and MVP this season. (BIG3/Chapman Baehler)

CloseUp360: What was it like for you to come back off of that Achilles injury and not just be able to play, but to be the MVP in the league and become a champion?

Corey Maggette: First off, it was a blessing to be able to come back from the injury. It was a tough, grueling rehab to get back. But at the end of the day, it was unbelievable to come back and to be able to play at such a high level, and then for our team to win the championship and to win MVP. You get picked for that position from the players. And so I think that's probably the biggest respect of all, playing the game of basketball, when you get the respect from your peers.

CU360: What was it like to play for coach Nancy Lieberman last year?

CM: It was awesome. Right from the start, when I talked to Clyde Drexler as well as Ice Cube about the possibility of trying to have Nancy Lieberman as a coach, they said, “Hey, you don't have a problem with her being a woman.” I said, “Wait, wait, let's stop it right there. You know, that's Lady Magic. She's a Hall of Famer. She knows the game of basketball, no matter if she's a woman or man. It would be an honor to have her as our coach.” And we clicked right away, right from the start. We went right into the detail part about, how can we be a champion? It's no surprise that we won because of our preparation to get us to that position.

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CU360: It’s interesting how a lot of people were inspired to become part of the BIG3 because they went to a game, and they loved the environment and the atmosphere and all that. But you were somebody who hopped on for Year 1 initially. What was it that drew you to the BIG3 and that brought you into that fold?

CM: First of all, I think it was the relationship I had with Ice Cube as well as Jeff Kwatinetz. They came to me and talked to me about, “Hey, it's a possibility that we're trying to start this BIG3. Will you be interested?” I said, “Hey, you know what? If my body is feeling good, why not? To be able to play the game and have the camaraderie amongst your peers.” And so I think it was really based off the vision of Ice Cube saying that he really wanted to give those players back, that basically you kind of fade to black once your NBA career is over. And he wanted to give those guys a second chance to revitalize their careers, and also for the fans that miss those guys that have played. You just kind of go off in the sunset. It was just a great, great way to reintroduce those players back to the general public.

CU360: What's it been like for you to reconnect with so many guys that you played with or against in the NBA? Particularly on your own team, you have so many guys who have Clippers ties or who you played with on the Clippers.

CM: It's been great, and I think one of the reasons, when I first assembled our team, I wanted to pick players that I felt were tough, I felt that had a winning mindset. That was one of the reasons I picked Quentin Richardson. I grew up with Q. Ever since we were eight years old, I've been knowing Q. And with Cuttino Mobley, I remember him back in the day at our rookie orientation in Washington D.C., and just the relationship I've built and the friendship I've built with Cuttino. Cuttino is the ultimate competitor in the game of basketball. And then from there, for Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Chris Andersen, “Birdman”—I know those guys are competitors. They are former champions in the NBA, and when you have former champions, they have a different level of commitment and a mindset, as well. And they definitely brought that right to the table.

And then I added Ryan Gomes. He got hurt this season and Xavier Silas stepped up, and he basically was our extension of Nancy Lieberman as a coach. And then also we brought in Jerome Williams, “The Junkyard Dog”, who's also another assistant coach. We wanted to bring people who are like-minded. We wanted to bring people with character and integrity that truly love the game, that were gym rats. And it was no surprise that position that we actually finished out at the end to win a championship.

Corey Maggette Big 3

Corey is the captain of Power in the BIG3. (BIG3/Chapman Baehler)

CU360: Has being in the BIG3 helped you to rekindle friendships or build any new friendships with guys off the court?

CM: Yeah. You know what? I would say David Hawkins, Andre Emmett, some of the players that actually didn't play that much in the NBA, but had really dominating careers overseas. So you start to reintroduce yourself to some of those guys who you're not as familiar with because it's not part of the NBA fraternity. Then, also players like Chauncey Billups, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Jermaine O'Neal, Amar'e Stoudemire—those guys you've known over your career playing. You get a chance to talk to them. Or like Andre Owens.

There's so many other guys that you didn't talk to as much. And I think for me, it was at least four or five guys that played in the BIG3 that were actually teammates of mine. So it was really good to see them, to see what they're actually accomplishing outside of basketball and to get a chance to play the game of basketball again with them.

CU360: How different is that communal vibe within the BIG3 compared to the NBA? The NBA is such a young league and there's such a wide range even beyond that of ages and lifestyles and life stages for guys. Whereas in the BIG3, everyone has played pro somewhere—most in the NBA—and they've moved on to that next phase in their life. Does that create a different atmosphere for you guys?

CM: Yeah. I would say it's more about the level of commitment. It's the maturity. I think for guys that played over 10 years in the NBA, it's a different level of maturity and I think they're family men. They have their priorities in order. And also, too, a lot of times when you're playing in the NBA, your personal ego was always in front of what you know as far as trying to have the relationships with others, because it's a competitive nature. Every single game is competitive and your ego really steps in the way of that a lot of times, because we're so dominant and we want to take out [our opponents]. It's like conquer and devour.

I think now with the BIG3, the players have moved past that mindset as far as now you can communicate with players, you can be normal. You can go back to your normalcy and then, all of a sudden, you get to the BIG3. You have more of that competitive nature. But also you start to open up more, and you're able to connect with other players and have fellowship, have dinner. A lot of these [people] at the BIG3 have really opened up the doors for the players.

CU360: It's interesting that everyone who's in the league has played basketball at a high level, and yet the league itself was founded by Ice Cube, who never played at that level. Obviously he's had a lot of success in music and entertainment. What does he bring to the table as a founder and owner that maybe is unique compared to what you might find among other pro sports leagues and people involved with those?

CM: First of all, Ice Cube can't play basketball to save his life. You already know that. But he's a die-hard NBA fan. He's a die-hard Lakers fan, born and raised in California. And he loves the game. And I think for Cube, he saw a vision. He saw an opening in the market that can really bring the players back. And I think sometimes, when you're just a dedicated fan of basketball, you're reminiscing and, like, “Man, remember that guy that used to play? Where's he at now? Like, what is he doing?” And I think for him, in the position he's in, starting from ground zero to building such a big empire, he saw another vision.

I think, as a young kid, he had a vision of being a great rapper. He had a vision after that of being a big-time movie star. And I think, when you have a vision of something and you put the hard work and dedication involved, he had another vision as far as with the BIG3 that he can assemble former NBA players that can actually play this game and enjoy it again. And definitely thinking about where three-on-three is big in Europe, he thought, like, Hey, why not try this in the states? Why not try this with former NBA players? We can initiate a new brand of basketball.

CU360: You've crossed over some since your NBA career ended. You've been broadcasting for FOX Sports, working Clippers games and college basketball games. Is there anything else that you've been involved in since leaving the NBA from a professional or personal standpoint?

CM: Yeah. I think first off, right when I retired, I went straight into working with the NBA league office and in basketball operations, business. So it really gave me knowledge of the game if I wanted to get in from the business standpoint, the business of basketball. And also from a coaching standpoint, right after that, I went to a lot of the NBA pre-draft to work out the players, to be an assistant coach—basically just to kind of get my feet wet outside of me being a former player.

And I think after that part, from working for basketball operations in the league office, I started to do TV, I started to do college games as a color analyst. Then I started to do stuff as far as pregame type stuff with the Clippers. And I started from there moving on to do the color for the games. So it's been a great journey. When you think about it, you grow up and you become a basketball player and a lot of times, most players' identities are just based off the NBA. Your identity is based on being in professional basketball, and I wanted to change that. And so I moved into TV. I went to the league office to work and learn. And it's been an unbelievable experience at this time.

CU360: Is broadcasting something that you see yourself sticking to for a while? Or are there other facets of the game or just professional life that you're looking to explore?

CM: I also run a basketball academy out of Orange County that I really enjoy, mentoring to the kids and just trying to give back as much as possible. And I think growing up in Chicago, there were a lot of guys that just stepped up to the plate to give back. Michael Finley was one who was in my area, the originator of really trying to give back to the community and to help out. So that's been a really big passion of mine. And then from there, I think broadcasting is something that I've really worked hard to get better at. And it pushes me, similar to how basketball does, so hopefully I can continue to do that as well.

CU360: And as far as this summer then, what's your outlook for this BIG3 season? Do you have any particular goals that you're shooting for?

CM: I think overall, the goal at the end of the day is for our team to stay healthy. Remember, we have guys that played 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 years in the NBA. And I think the best ability for us is being available, right? You need to be injury-free. We had some injuries even last season that almost cost us a championship, so we want to be healthy. I'm looking forward to playing Lamar Odom, who was a former teammate of mine—just the comeback of him personally. Joe Johnson, another player who was an unbelievable player in the league, a former All-Star, just a big-time player. Josh Smith, Will Bynum, Gilbert Arenas—it's a lot of players. I'm really looking forward to seeing Rashard Lewis come back. He tore his Achilles last year and I've had extensive conversations with him about his recovery, and so I'm really pulling for him to get back and play at 100 percent.

 

Check back on Tuesday for our chat with Hall of Famer and reigning BIG3 Coach of the Year Nancy Lieberman.

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.