Standing at a lectern in a Midtown Manhattan hotel on Wednesday, the rapper and actor Ice Cube lamented seeing a favorite N.B.A. player retire before his abilities had completely faded.
“It’s like losing a loved one or a best friend,” he said.
That feeling led Ice Cube to start the Big3, a new league that will pit former professionals against one another in three-on-three basketball.
Ex-N.B.A. stars like Mike Bibby, Chauncey Billups, Rashard Lewis, Kenyon Martin and Jermaine O’Neal are among those who have agreed to play.
But the league’s biggest asset is probably the charismatic Allen Iverson, who will be a player-coach. At the league’s unveiling on Wednesday, he swatted away a question provoking him over his famous “practice” comments of 2002, saying with good-natured scorn, “You should have been a little more original than that.”
The Big3 will be a traveling league: All eight teams will head to a city for four minigames on the same day. Games will be played on Saturdays, starting June 24 and continuing through the summer, which the league sees as a fertile season.
“The summer is boring,” Ice Cube said. “There’s nothing on. It’s cool to see Drew Brees throwing passes in practice, but who really cares?”
There are still some details to be worked out, like TV coverage. “We’re going to be on television,” promised Jeff Kwatinetz, an entertainment executive and a founder of the league. Also to come are the team names and the arenas and cities that the league will visit.
“We plan on playing in some of the biggest arenas in the world,” Ice Cube said.
Kwatinetz named Seattle — “a city that misses and deserves basketball” — a possibility, as well as New York, London and Toronto.
Showmanship will be an integral part of the league. Player introductions will be done boxing-style, with individualized music, and organizers promised spectacular halftime shows.
“This is going to be a party: music, lights, dancing, energy,” Kwatinetz said. “Incredible basketball will be at the forefront.”
The eight teams will draft their five-man squads, tentatively at the end of March. When making their selections, captains will have to consider the differences of a three-on-three game.
Big3 games will be played without a game clock: The first team to 60 points will be the winner. Beyond the 3-point line on the half-court floor will be three circles; any player with at least a foot on one when he shoots will have a chance for 4 points rather than 3.
“Obviously I’m going to draft a 4-point shooter,” Iverson said. “I’ve got to have my sniper.”
But he acknowledged that adjusting for the three-on-three game would be difficult.
“Putting my squad together, I’m going to have to use my basketball brain and figure that out,” he said. “You’ve got to have someone to handle the rock. You’ve got to have someone to protect the rim. You’ve got to have a scorer.”
Defense will be particularly difficult in the three-on-three format, Lewis said, but he added, “We’re former N.B.A. players; we’ll figure it out.”
Asked to name their dream teammates, Iverson selected Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Lewis chose Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan, and Martin picked Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett. Asked to choose an all hip-hop lineup, Ice Cube listed Snoop Dogg, Kevin Hart and The Game.
Iverson, Lewis and Martin, the three players at the news conference, are 41, 37 and 39. (The Big3 has a minimum age of 30.) And Iverson is seven years removed from the N.B.A.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be in decent enough shape to play half-court, plus we get a week to recover,” Lewis said.
The three-on-three setup is a growing format. The International Basketball Federation, known as FIBA, now sponsors a three-on-three world championship (won so far by Serbia and Qatar), and there has been a movement to add the sport to the Olympics alongside the traditional five-on-five game.
“This format allows the players to excel,” Kwatinetz said. “Players get smarter over time, and they improve their technical skills. But it’s hard to run up and down the court for 82 games. This format maximizes the value of the skills they have.”
Leagues of retired players have a checkered record in American sports. A baseball old-timers’ league that was founded in Florida in 1989 and that featured stars like Vida Blue, Bobby Bonds, Dock Ellis, Fergie Jenkins, Dave Kingman and Graig Nettles lasted a season and a half. A basketball game called the Legends Classic, played in conjunction with the N.B.A. All-Star Game, was scrapped in the 1990s because of frequent player injuries.
It is certainly an open question whether the Big3 can survive in the crowded American sports market, much less be “among the most exciting sports events in the world,” as a news release promised.
Roger Mason Jr., the league’s commissioner and a former N.B.A. player and players’ union official, said: “We want to look at what those leagues did wrong. I’m very confident on the business side.”
Kwatinetz said: “This is not a stunt; this is about great basketball.”
Iverson, who wore a Chicago Blackhawks cap, added his own vote of confidence. “When I got the call, it was a no-brainer,” he said. “Ice Cube, you don’t turn that down. That’s success looking you in the eyes.”
He added: “This is not going to be the only time we do it. This is going to go on and on and on and on.”