BIG3 lowers minimum age amid major changes

Johnson wins game with step-back 4-pointer (0:45)

Joe Johnson calls game with a 4-point basket to clinch his team the win in Big3 action. (0:45)

Wednesday was a good day for hip-hop legend Ice Cube.

After countless calls and months of planning, his BIG3 basketball league has announced major changes for the upcoming season of professional 3-on-3 hoops.

The league is now officially recognizing that athletes are playing a completely new sport known as FIREBALL3 as the result of game innovations, unique rules and league policies introduced by the BIG3 over its first three seasons -- such as the 4-point shot and 14-second shot clock.

The BIG3 has also lowered its minimum age for qualifying athletes from 27 to 22, will use a red ball known as a FIREBALL and will hold open tryouts to welcome all athletes starting in 2020.

Also, once per half, a team can challenge a foul call with the "Bring the Fire" rule, which will result in an in-game one-on-one possession with the victor winning the call.

"I think lowering the age does erase the stigma [of this being a retirement league]," Ice Cube told ESPN. "It might've kept people from playing in the BIG3 because they don't want to seem like they're done.

"So we want to get rid of all the stigmas that the league had and when we first started the league. We vowed not to be rigid and to evolve with what the league is doing and what it needs to be, so this allows us to make the right moves at the right time and still keep the integrity of what basketball is."

All of these changes were made to gain more credibility entering the fourth season. Some of the league policies over its first three seasons have already encouraged player choice in the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for recovery, single foul shots, player empowerment and coach challenges.

Last year, seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson became the first BIG3 player to land an NBA deal, as he reentered the NBA picture after a dominant effort in the 3-on-3 ranks. Johnson didn't make the final roster, but did receive a training camp invite with the Detroit Pistons.

Nate Robinson, Gilbert Arenas, Josh Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Mike Bibby, Stephen Jackson, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Rashard Lewis are among the long list of other former NBA players who have competed in the BIG3 since it started in 2017. All athletes are now welcome, even two-sport players.

"We might get NFL players; you never know. Whoever thinks they can ball," Ice Cube said. "[Musicians] Chris Brown, J. Cole may try out. You never know. Whoever feels like they can ball on this level, it'll be good to see and look. ...

"This is not a publicity stunt. It's not a charity thing. It's if you're good enough, and the coaches, player-captains, co-captains are the one that will be the judge if someone can get to the combine, so you're going to have to show what you can do."

Ice Cube founded the league with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, and they're looking to continue to appeal to a more diverse audience. This is the start.

"The only way to really do this is to project that we believe it's a different thing. So now instead of being a different version of a playground game, it's something that's new and fresh," Kwatinetz said. "We're never going to be the best of what we do as a niche sport. We're never going to be better than the NBA, but in the same way cricket and baseball or rugby and football [coexist], you don't have to be better than the other to be different."