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Ice Cube expands Big3 basketball league amid challenges

Meg James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Entertainment mogul Ice Cube's Big3 basketball league is looking for a rebound.

During a conference call with reporters Thursday, Big3's backers had planned to tout their "incredible success" and ambitious plans to expand the fledgling league into new markets.

But Cube and his business partner, entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, also revealed some ongoing challenges facing the league, including the end of its two-year TV contract with Fox Sports.

"It is really time to move on," Cube said.

Big3 has been locked in a bitter legal dispute with a Qatari investment firm and has struggled to recruit a deep-pocketed investor to help back the league's hoped-for bid for the Fox sports channels.

Cube and Kwatinetz previewed their plans for expansion: Big3 intends to grow to 12 teams from eight this year, and the league plans to widen its tour to 18 cities, up from 10. It will also have three games a week in each city, up from two games a week. And the league is lowering the age threshold to 27 from 30 to allow younger players into the league.

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"We're in it for the long haul," said Cube, whose given name is O'Shea Jackson. "Our fan base is growing -- more and more people are really getting into the league."

But finding a new TV partner has become a top priority to keep the nascent Big3 league commercially viable. Although its games -- which consist of former NBA basketball players competing three on three -- have brought in large crowds to sports arenas, TV rights deals are the lifeblood of professional sports leagues.

Big3, Kwatinetz and others say, has been fielding interest from other sports broadcasters and the group hopes to have a new TV home by June, when the league's third season tips off.

Cube and Kwatinetz downplayed the termination of the Fox Sports TV contract.

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