Facing fairly long odds when it began its inaugural season last year, the Big3 basketball league managed to find a niche for itself and generate some buzz in the crowded sports landscape.
As first reported by TMZ Sports, the league, which was founded by the rapper Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, an entertainment industry executive, fired its commissioner, with Ice Cube taking over on an interim basis.
In a letter sent to the league’s players, coaches and staff that was provided to The New York Times, it was revealed that Roger Mason Jr. had been terminated as a result of his relationship with a pair of Qatari investors whom Mason had brought to the league. The letter said the investors, Ayman Sabi and Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, had failed to contribute the money required of minority investors in Big3, and the league brought a lawsuit against them in February.
Mason, a former NBA player, was known to have a close relationship with Sabi and Al-Rumaihi, according to the letter, and the league was troubled by Mason’s continued personal and business association with them after the lawsuit was filed, which included his appearing in a picture on social media with them in which he commented “#family.”
“In response to all the above egregious conduct,” the letter said, “Mr. Mason acknowledged they owed the money but stated he ‘would not get in the middle’ to defend the Big3. Far from helping, Mr. Mason had his lawyer send a letter to the Big3 warning us not to interfere with Mr. Mason’s relationship with these individuals with whom Mr. Mason apparently prioritized over the Big3.”
After the news broke of his firing, Mason issued a lengthy statement that emphatically denied the accusations and included some shots at the league.
“I was terminated by Big3 in retaliation for legal claims which I made last week in a letter sent by my attorneys to Big3 Basketball alleging that the league had breached my employment agreement,” Mason said.
Mason, who had a 10-year career in the NBA after being drafted in the second-round by the Chicago Bulls in 2002, served as the deputy executive director of the NBA Players Association before he became the co-president and commissioner of Big3.
His statement said Kwatinetz had orchestrated a “malicious defamatory campaign” against him and accused the league of having a hostile and racist work environment.
Mark Geragos, a lawyer for Big3, dismissed Mason’s charges. “Anyone who knows Jeff knows how preposterous these accusations are,” Geragos said in a phone interview.
The shake-up came at a particularly awkward time for Big3, as the league had announced the schedule for its second season just before the TMZ report was published.
Mason’s dismissal is not expected to delay the season, which is set to begin June 22 in Houston, and the league’s letter said two major sponsorship deals would be announced in the next seven days. Ice Cube, who was already a co-president alongside Mason, will serve as president and commissioner until a successor is found.
The league’s 2018 schedule calls for an eight-week regular season in the league’s unique format of half-court 3-on-3 games, which differ from the FIBA-sanctioned version of the game in several ways, including a court featuring three 4-point shot zones and games being decided by which team gets to 50 points first — with a requirement that teams must win by 2 or more points.
A playoff round is scheduled for Aug. 17 in Dallas with a championship game to be held on Aug. 24 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Last year’s title was won by Trilogy, a team coached by Rick Mahorn that included the former NBA players Rashad McCants, James White and Dion Glover.
To go with the league’s stars from last year like Kenyon Martin and Rashard Lewis, Big3 has added other big-name former NBA players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Quentin Richardson, Eddy Curry and even Greg Oden, the oft-injured former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.
Before the news of Mason’s dismissal, the league’s announcement of its 2018 schedule had included a message from Kwatinetz, which had a bright tone that quickly clashed with the emerging reports of discord.
“We were thrilled by how quickly fans embraced the league last season and look forward to bringing them an even bigger and better Big3 this year,” he said. “All offseason we’ve been working hard to elevate the game — we’ve added incredible talent, new cities, and have more exciting updates on the way.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.