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👋 Good morning! Coming tomorrow: College Football Season Preview (Special Edition). Get pumped!!!

Today's word count: 1,544 (6 minutes)

1 big thing: 🏀 The BIG3 is having a moment

Ice Cube. Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

The third season of Ice Cube's 3-on-3 basketball league, the BIG3, will come to a close on Sunday, with the Triplets and the Killer 3's facing off in the championship game at Staples Center.

  • Triplets roster: League MVP Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson, Alan Anderson, Jannero Pargo, Sergerio Gipson, Jamario Moon, Lisa Leslie (coach).
  • Killer 3's roster: Stephen Jackson, Eddy Curry, C.J. Watson, Franklin "Frank Nitty" Session, Josh Powell, Donte Greene, Charles Oakley (coach).

Driving the news: Johnson, 38, has received interest from multiple NBA teams following his MVP campaign and will workout for the 76ers today, ESPN reports.

Why it matters: The BIG3 has had to fight against the stigma that it's nothing more than a haven for washed up former pros, so Johnson returning to the NBA would be extremely validating — proof that the league can not only help players leave basketball on their own terms but even rejuvenate their careers.

  • "I think [players and agents] believe it can only hurt them. ... But I'm telling you, if you're dominating the BIG3, you'll get back in the league," Celtics analyst and BIG3 player Brian Scalabrine told The Athletic (subscription).

Ice Cube interview: I spoke with Ice Cube — yes, me, your email pen pal, talking on the phone with an icon — about the Johnson news and the BIG3 as a whole.

1. I'm trying to think of other players who could follow in Joe's footsteps and the first name that comes to mind is Carmelo Anthony. Thoughts?

"Of course we'd love it. He just has to figure out if he can get past the stigma of 'Oh, it's really over because you're in the BIG3.' Like no, this is where you can show that you can still play. Both sides of the ball, too — you have to play defense in our league."

2. Do you view the BIG3 as a competitor to the NBA or are you complementary?

"Complementary. We don't want to sidetrack somebody's dream of making it; we don't want to touch G League players. We want guys to keep their NBA dreams alive."

3. Could you see the BIG3-NBA relationship expanding in the future?

"In a perfect world, NBA players that want to get a little more physical or just play in a dope league in the summer could one day come play in the BIG3 in the offseason then go back to their NBA team."

4. Many athletes struggle with retirement. They miss that camaraderie, that sense of identity. Is that something you take pride in? Helping players through that?

"Yeah, man, that's spiritual to me. Because ya know, these guys work all their lives on this skill and then somebody comes and tells them it's over."
"I look at myself, and if someone had told me that, there would be a lot of cool s--t that's not in this world. So I have a lot of empathy for athletes who get kicked off the stage before they're done performing."
"Take a guy like Kenyon Martin. I think he was able to get all of his basketball out of him before retiring from the BIG3. No regrets, left a champion and had peace with it. That's what it's all about."
2. 🏈 Tonight: Clemson vs. Georgia Tech, 8pm ET

Photo: Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Top-ranked Clemson opens its title defense against Georgia Tech tonight at 8pm ET — the first football game on the newly launched ACC Network.

P.S. ... In related news, Alabama's star linebacker Dylan Moses tore his ACL yesterday and is out for the year. Huge loss for the Tide.

3. ⚽️ Amid growing wealth gap, Bury FC disappears

Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

Bury FC — a 134-year-old soccer club near Manchester — was kicked out of the English Football League on Tuesday night after it failed to find a buyer to save it from financial ruin.

Why it matters: "Though Bury is the first club to be expelled since Maidstone in 1992, its demise is not an isolated case today," writes WSJ's Joshua Robinson (subscription).

  • "Several more clubs around the country, all outside the billionaires' playground that is the Premier League, know they could be next."
  • Heck, Bolton Wanderers — a 145-year-old club less than 10 miles from Bury — narrowly avoided the same fate yesterday when it completed a last-minute sale.

By the numbers: In 2017-18, the 20 Premier League clubs posted combined revenues of $5.9 billion, per Deloitte. Meanwhile, more than half of the 72 clubs in the three tiers below the Premier League recorded losses.

The final word: "Football as a whole is facing a difficult discussion: do we want a healthy and vibrant pyramid of clubs or a combination of 20 to 40 franchises while the rest wither away? If it's the former, we need a serious long-term plan in place and fast," writes The Telegraph's Andy Holt.

4. 🏀 The problem with the WNBA's playoff format
Expand chart
Data: WNBA; Table: Axios Visuals

In 2016, the WNBA adopted a new playoff format. It worked well for the first three seasons, but it will become a problem this year, potentially in cruel ways.

How it works: Teams are seeded 1 through 8 regardless of conference. The top two teams get double byes and the first two rounds are single-elimination, meaning seed Nos. 3–8 have to play at least one win-or-go-home game.

The big picture: This format worked well in the past when the top of the standings weren't super crowded and the best two teams were often obvious. But now that parity has arrived, it feels problematic.

  • With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the top five teams are separated by just four games. Can you imagine finishing one game worse than the second-best team in the league and having your season end in 40 minutes?

The bottom line: "The good news is the final two weeks of the regular season will be intense, with every game having significant playoff implications at the top," writes SB Nation's Matt Ellentuck.

  • "No matter how it shakes, though, someone will get the short end of the stick. For the first time, the single-elimination format will have unintended consequences that could make parts of the postseason a huge bummer."
5. ⭐ Iconic sports team nicknames
Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, aka. "The Bash Brothers." Photo: Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images

The Chiefs' speedy wide receiver corps has dubbed themselves the "Legion of Zoom," a reference to the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary that wreaked havoc earlier this decade.

More iconic nicknames:

  • Steel Curtain: The Steelers' defensive line of Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes helped them win four Super Bowls in six years.
  • Bash Brothers: In the late 80s, A's sluggers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco celebrated dingers by bashing their forearms together. Lonely Island made a hilarious musical comedy about it for Netflix. Highly recommend.
  • Purple People Eaters: The Vikings' defensive line of the late 60s and early 70s led them to three Super Bowl appearances in four years (unfortunately, they lost all three).
  • Splash Brothers: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson came to define a whole new era in the NBA and might be the two best shooters of all time.
  • Broad Street Bullies: In the early 70s, the Philadelphia Flyers adopted a hard-nosed style of play that helped them win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
6. Aug. 29, 1974: 🏀 Moses goes from prep to pro

Moses Malone on the Utah Stars. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

45 years ago today, Moses Malone signed a seven-year contract worth up to $3 million with the ABA's Utah Stars, officially making him the first modern prep basketball player to go straight to the pros.

  • The landscape: The jump was taboo at the time, with the NBA blocking high school draftees from playing until one year after graduation. The ABA had no such rule.
  • The big picture: Malone played just two seasons in the ABA before it merged with the NBA. In the 45 years since he paved the way, 44 players have gone to the NBA immediately out of high school.

Go deeper: NBA prepping for generational 2022 draft (Yahoo Sports)

7. ⚾ MLB trivia

Nationals starter Max Scherzer just reached 200 strikeouts for the eighth straight season, breaking a tie with Chris Sale, Roger Clemens, and Walter Johnson for the second-longest streak in MLB history.

  • Question: Who is the only pitcher with a longer streak?
  • Hint: He had nine straight 200-K seasons from 1968 to 1976 while pitching for a team in Scherzer's division.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🏎 RIP, Jessi Combs
Screenshot: @thejessicombs (IG)

Professional driver and former "Mythbusters" host Jessi Combs has died in a jet car crash while attempting to break a land speed record in Oregon. She was 39.

  • Combs, who held the title of "fastest woman on four wheels," was attempting to break her own record she set in 2013 with a top speed of 440 mph.
9. 📚 Good reads

🏈 Why NFL Teams Find It So Hard To Quit QBs (The Ringer)

"Cheap, young quarterbacks are the holy grail of modern football building blocks. So why do teams keep handing out $30 million extensions to less-than-elite passers?"

🏀 Gone In 3.9 Seconds: Where Basketball Took JamesOn Curry (ESPN)

"It was a dream come true, but the dream only lasted 3.9 seconds — the shortest career in NBA history. But that's not JamesOn Curry’s story. It's a lot bigger than that."

👊 California's Athletic Commission Is Battling MMA's Extreme Weight-Cutting Culture, But Who's Winning? (The Athletic)

"This is one of the few sports in which professional athletes routinely dehydrate themselves to the point of near (or sometimes actual) incapacitation the day before the contest … Sometimes they can barely stand up under their own power when they step on the scale."
10. 📸 Pic du jour
Screenshot: @packers

The Packers hosted their annual "Welcome Back Luncheon" yesterday, and the QBs decided to dress up as characters from "Happy Gilmore" for the special occasion.

  • Left to right: Manny Wilkins is Happy's caddy, Otto; Tim Boyle is Happy Gilmore; Aaron Rodgers is the sadistic orderly who worked in Happy's grandmother's nursing home (played by Ben Stiller); and DeShone Kizer is Happy's golf coach, Chubbs Peterson.

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Song of the day" Baker

Trivia answer: Mets legend Tom Seaver