NEW YORK (AP) – Winner stays. That’s the norm on the playground, where a team playing pickup ball remains on the court until it is beaten. And that’s the way Ice Cube insisted it had to be in the BIG3. Win a championship, come back the next season with the team intact to defend the title.

“To me it goes back to the essence of 3-on-3, king of the court mentality,” Cube said.

The question is whether it’s fair to Trilogy, the undefeated champion from the inaugural season of the entertainer’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players.

It wouldn’t work in major professional sports. But in the BIG3, back come Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, James White and Dion Glover, who guaranteed themselves a job for this year by winning the title. They have the chance to defend their title against rivals that have bolstered by an influx of former NBA champions, All-Stars or Olympic gold medalists.

“We are at a disadvantage because we have kind of been exposed to what we have and what we’re capable of, going 10-0, so everybody’s done their homework,” said the 33-year-old McCants. “They know who we are. There’s a scouting report now, so it’s going to be a lot more difficult this year than it was last year.”

All the players in the league — other than those on Trilogy — who weren’t captains or co-captains went back into this year’s draft pool, with no promise of getting picked with the added talent that was available this year: Amare Stoudemire, Ron Artest, Carlos Boozer, Baron Davis and Nate Robinson signed on. It is unclear what players’ salaries are; the league has not publicly disclosed that information.

The only move for Triology coach Rick Mahorn was the addition of Dahntay Jones when rosters were expanded to six players. The 6-foot-4 McCants, last year’s No. 1 overall pick and leading scorer in the championship game, was promoted to a co-captain.

BIG3 Champion Trilogy

(credit: Stephen Brashear/BIG3/Getty Images)

Cube doesn’t know if job security for the winners was a motivating factor for players who came aboard when he founded his league with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz. McCants, who played four years in the NBA, a few more overseas and knows how hard it is to have a career playing basketball, takes pride in the gimmick even while acknowledging that it doesn’t work in his team’s favor.

“It’s a refreshing aspect to the league where you have bragging rights to say, ‘Hey, you guys got to go back into the combine and go through the draft all over again because you didn’t win, and the winners prevail,'” he said.

And then in pro sports sometimes they then break up practically the moment the victory celebration is over. Free agency is a benefit for players but at times a detriment to teams.

“We felt like fans are weary of, you get behind a team, they win it, and you don’t know if that same team is going to come back or not,” Cube said. “You don’t know who’s going to leave, and I just think fans are sick of that. So to me, fans are not really getting into teams as much as they’re getting into players. So that’s the reason why I think there has to be a happy medium between what exists now in sports, which is free agency kind of run rampant, and a balance of what the fans really want.

“So there’s got to be something, so in our league we just eliminate that.”

Cube envisions a 12-team league playing twice a week in NBA arenas next season if the BIG3, trying to capitalize on the popularity of 3-on-3, which debuts in the Olympics in 2020 — is successful. That would make even more teams to beat for whoever wins this season’s title. But he believes not changing up the champ is the best approach.

“Like yo, if you win it, you’re the champion, there’s no reason for you to make any changes,” he said. “And the rest of the league has a measuring stick to draft because everybody goes back to the draft pool pretty much if you don’t win the championship, so you have to reorganize your thinking of your team to figure out how to beat this standard. So it just, to me, works better.”

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