Many athletes invest their entire childhood getting to live their dreams of playing professionally, and they do everything possible to maximize their potential and maintain a long career. So when the undefeated Father Time creeps on these athletes, and they are essentially pushed out of their leagues by a business that seeks younger, cheaper players, it’s understandable that these older veterans are disappointed and still have the desire to play. That’s what makes the recent advent of the BIG3 and American Flag Football League (AFFL) so great; fans get to watch athletes that they grew up idolizing, while the retired athletes obtain an outlet to play the game they have enjoyed their entire lives.
The BIG3, founded by rapper, actor, and entertainer Ice Cube, is a 3-on-3 basketball league made up of former NBA players. Notable players competing in the BIG3 include Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, and Jason Williams. In its inaugural game on June 25, the 3-Headed Monsters, led by two-time All Star Rashard Lewis, defeated the Ghost Ballers, headed by 14-year vet Mike Bibby.
The AFFL is a new flag football league that debuted on June 27. It has recruited the services of former NFL players like Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson. In the AFFL’s launch game, Vick put on a show, throwing for 547 yards and eight touchdowns, according to AJC.com. Tickets for the game were sold for $10 and all proceeds went to the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide youth athletes with a better playing experience.
Despite these creative innovations, retired pros have always found ways to keep their competitive juices flowing after their playing days are over.
Marbury, a two-time All Star and All-NBA selection over the course of a 13-year career, averaged 19.3 points per game before deciding to take a break from the game in 2009 to focus on business ventures. Marbury would come back to play basketball but in a different league. He joined the Chinese Basketball Association, where he would bounce around teams before landing with the Beijing Ducks in 2011. With the Ducks, Marbury created a legacy that arguably outshines his NBA career. He led the team to three CBA Championships over the course of six years, and the organization erected a statue of Marbury in 2012. Marbury announced that he would retire at the end of the 2017-2018 CBA season, but the Ducks parted ways with him on April 24, 2017.
Stoudemire was the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. Selected straight out of high school, he averaged 18.9 points per game over 14 years, winning the Rookie of the Year Award, as well as being a six-time All Star and five-time All-NBA selection. After retiring from the NBA in 2016, Stoudemire went overseas to continue playing. He signed a contract with Hapoel Jerusalem of the Israeli Basketball Premier League, a team that he co-owns as well. Stoudemire saw instant success with his new team, guiding them to an Israeli Basketball League Cup in October 2016, and then an Israeli League Championship in June.
Owens, one of the greatest wide receivers to play in the NFL, racked up 1,078 receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns over a 15-year career. He last played in 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he almost obtained a 1,000-yard season at the age of 37 before seeing his season cut short by an Achilles tear. Despite not playing in the NFL since then, Owens has found other ways to play. The future of Hall of Famer made his way to the Indoor Football League, where he played for (and partially owned) the Allen Wranglers in 2011, before being released in 2012.
These pros have shown that you can take the player out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the player.