T.J. Ford, 34, to play in Big3 despite retirement for spinal injuries

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T.J. Ford will play in the 2018 season of the Big3 league six years after retiring from the NBA following a number of scares to his surgically repaired spine.

Ford, 34, told ESPN analyst Stephen Jackson in a text that he agreed to a deal with the half-court league founded by Ice Cube that features former NBA players.

The Big3's inaugural season wrapped in late August, with the Rick Mahorn-coached team Trilogy featuring Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington and Rashad McCants winning the championship, played at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The Big3 said earlier this month it would expand its rosters for the 2018 season from five to six players, adding eight players total.

Ford abruptly retired in March 2012, after another spinal-injury scare, having been previously sidelined for an entire NBA season and at various times hampered by the spinal issues that limited the dazzling promise that made him a college star.

"I think I succeeded at beating the odds, of being the little guy, making it to the NBA and lasting as long as I did," the former point guard said when announcing his retirement. "I think I achieved a lot. I know I didn't have the career I anticipated and everyone anticipated, me having been the player of the year [at Texas]. But I think I still had a successful career."

The month of his retirement, Ford, playing for the San Antonio Spurs, had fallen to the court and lay motionless in a game against the New York Knicks. But it wasn't the first time it had happened. He was playing just his 14th game in an injury-prone season when Knicks guard Baron Davis elbowed him in the back, knocking him to the ground.

The then-28-year-old Ford didn't move for several minutes and wobbled while being helped off the court.

Drafted eighth overall by Milwaukee in 2003, Ford also played for the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers but never quite reached the potential that made him the Naismith and Wooden player of the year at Texas. He led the Longhorns to the Final Four as a sophomore, helping turn football-obsessed Texas into a rising basketball power that gave the program the profile to recruit stars like Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.

But Ford was just 55 games into his rookie season when a collision with? Minnesota Timberwolves forward Mark Madsen?changed his career. He landed hard on his tailbone after releasing a short jumper and instantly felt numb upon slamming to the ground. Trainers immobilized Ford's neck and carted him off on a stretcher.

Ford underwent spinal fusion surgery and was sidelined through the next season. He returned to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005 and was traded in 2006 to Toronto, where Ford began putting together his best seasons. He averaged 14 points and 7.9 assists in his Raptors debut, and his scoring average hit a career high of 14.9 points with Indiana in 2008-09.

But by the next season, at 26, Ford was already transitioning from a franchise point guard to a backup. He still took satisfaction in a career that was mostly played against the advice of doctors.

Knocked out most of the season because of a nagging hamstring injury, Ford was averaging 3.6 points, 3.2 assists and 1.3 rebounds in 2011-12 with the Spurs. For his career, Ford played in 429 games, averaging 11.2 points, 5.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.16 steals.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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