It has been an interesting summer for basketball so far.
Ice Cube’s 3-and-3 venture, “BIG3,” generated massive publicity in advance of its launch at Barclays Center last month, and the Las Vegas Summer League — with Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball — became a nightly “SportsCenter” obsession.
Next up: the final rounds of The Basketball Tournament, starting Thursday in Brooklyn. As the name suggests, it is a basketball tournament, one with a dramatic hook that not even the NBA can match. It is winner-take-all for $2 million.
“This is a really unique deal,” said Fran Fraschilla, who will analyze games for ESPN’s coverage of the event. “Reality TV at its finest.”
This is the event’s fourth summer but only its second with a prize that size after starting at $500,000 in 2014 and growing to $1 million the following year. Now, one team gets to share $2 million and the other 63 get, as Fraschilla put, “zilch.”
“As you get closer to the championship, the intensity, the pressure, the emotion, just ratchets up,” he said.
So much so that two years ago a referee assigned to the final asked Fraschilla if he had any advice, and Fraschilla told him, “Yeah, keep your car engine running.”
The event is full-court, 5-on-5, featuring in many cases teams of alumni of major college programs who have gotten the old gang back together. The 16 surviving teams that will play at LIU’s Brooklyn campus include collections of former players from Syracuse, Colorado, Gonzaga and VCU, among others.
“Scarlet & Gray” features Ohio State alums including former first-round NBA draft pick Jared Sullinger.
“When you end your college career you go your own ways,” Fraschilla said. “Some guys get to go to the NBA, and they are very fortunate, and some will play ball overseas and some will just grab an accounting job. This is a chance to rekindle that feeling.”
Last summer, former Pittsburgh player Brad Wannamaker signed a seven-figure deal with a club in Turkey but still showed up to play with his former college pals.
“I said, ‘What are you doing here? You just signed a deal for a million dollars,’” Fraschilla recalled. “He said, ‘Coach, I have to be with my guys.’ I said, ‘OK, just don’t take any charges.’”
The Syracuse alumni, called “Boeheim’s Army,” includes Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Rick Jackson, C.J. Fair, Eric Devendorf and Trevor Cooney.
“It’s fun in that regard,” Fraschilla said. “I don’t think anybody is tuning in necessarily to watch Eric Devendorf play, no disrespect to Eric. They’re tuning in because they know what’s at stake.”
Fraschilla said he felt the pain of Team Colorado last year after it reached the final but lost a close game - and the $2 million – to Overseas Elite, which defended its 2015 title. (A team of Notre Dame alumni won in 2014.)
“I saw those guys at their hotel and it was like losing Game 7 of the NBA championship,” he said. “They were distraught, in part because human nature is you spend that money before you have it. Then you realize you’re coming away with, really, zilch.”
Overseas Elite is back in the regional semifinals this year, featuring former St. John’s players Justin Burrell, Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy.
The round of 16 games will be contested Thursday through Saturday, with the four regional finals set for Sunday. All 12 games will be carried live either by ESPN or ESPN2. The semifinals and final are in Baltimore Aug. 1-3.
The excitement surrounding the BIG3 peaked at its premiere, and since then TV ratings on FS1 have dropped, and on Sunday fans in Philadelphia booed when player/coach Allen Iverson only served as coach Allen Iverson because of an injury.
Fraschilla said he was intrigued by the idea initially, saying, “When it comes to basketball, especially in the summer, let’s try anything and see if it sticks.”
But, he added, “I was surprised the level of competition was not great. With all due respect to some of the guys who played in the league, many of them were fringe NBA players. I mean, I would rather see Dr. J play at 70 than some of these guys at 45.” (Julius Erving, a BIG3 coach, actually is only 67, but point taken.)