NBA stars have taken a different approach this offseason, bringing back an old 'tradition' that the old school established during the 2000s. We've seen many players taking part in Pro-Am leagues, trying to get some action while the league is full of trade and signing rumors.
Several players have hit many leagues around the country, including LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Kyle Kuzma, and more. Sadly, nowadays, only two or three of these players can be seen together, but back in the day, fans were close to watching a memorable matchup that would have included some of the greatest players of all time playing an outdoor tournament.
Today marks 18 years and one day since the greatest Rucker Park game never happened. Back in 2004, Hip Hop legends Jay-Z and Fat Joe were engaged in a heated beef that transcended music. Besides their back and forth on songs and interviews, they were having a big battle in the sneaker field.
Moreover, they tried to settle all of this on the court, creating big teams to compete for a championship in the mythical Rucker Park. On the 18th anniversary of the 'greatest game that never was', Boardroom recalled what led these two legendary rappers to become basketball coaches while recruiting some pretty big names to their respective squads.
In the early 2000s, Jay-Z and Fat Joe each had a hold on both the rap game and their home of New York City at large.
Needless to say, they weren’t friends.
Embroiled in beef and competing for territory on the Billboard charts and in the Five Boroughs, it eventually came to pass that the two artists had to take their rivalry to the only place that New York power players could truly settle it.
No, not the booth to make diss records. No, not Hot 97 to call each other names. Rather, they agreed to meet at Harlem’s Holcombe Rucker Playground — better known as Rucker Park — to have their two hoop squads compete in the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic.
Coming off back-to-back Blueprint albums and a Reebok shoe release, Jay-Z had plenty of clout and plenty to promote. Facing off against Fat Joe’s Terror Squad team at the EBC wasn’t just the climax of a war of words between the two rappers; it was all part of Jay-Z’s marketing plan to push both his signature footwear and his upcoming record.
On the other hand, Fat Joe was trying to get a collab shoe with the GOAT Michael Jordan, but his beef with 50 Cent ruined that dream.
Uptown in the Bronx, Fat Joe was having a sneaker situation of his own. While already famous for the Terror Squad exclusive Air Force 1s sent to Nike by his crew, Joe was inches away from being the first artist to have a collaboration with Jordan Brand.
Jay and Joe weren’t just stepping on each other’s toes on the charts; they were competing for clout in the shoe game.
“I was supposed to be the first artist ever to collaborate with Jordan,” Joe said in an interview with radio DJ Lord Sear, as reported by William Ketchum III. “I met with him like six times, we were coming up with the design and everything. That’s when [my] 50 Cent beef was really, really on. We had went at it in the [MTV VMA] awards show. From Michael Jordan’s mouth himself, he was like, ‘I want to do it, but you know, I’m not into the rap beef and all these problems and this and that. That was it, that’s where it backed out of.”
They were ready to win the battle of the summer and started looking for possible stars. Truth to their styles, they went big and brought a lot of high-profile players to put together a terrific squad.
With Joe hailing from the Bronx and Hov repping BK, the two titans of hip-hop looked far beyond their boroughs when assembling their rosters.
For Fat Joe, his Terror Squad front court featured the likes of All-NBA paint patrons like Jermaine O’Neal, Zach Randolph, and Shawn Marion. Friend of the program, Stephen Jackson was known to run the wing, while Stephon Marbury, who notably ranked among the highest-paid players in the league at that time, controlled the point.
“At the Rucker, we won seven chips,” Joe recalled recently on the “All the Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes. “We were going to win.”
Jay-Z had other plans. Pulling local legends from Queens and Brooklyn, Lamar Odom led Team S. Carter in early exhibitions, while high school phenom Sebastian Telfair was picked up later on. In many cases, the prodigy point guard not yet old enough to have a beer at 40/40 was quite literally picked up.
“He’d call you, he’d e-mail you,” Telfair told SI when reflecting on the summer before his senior year. “If I couldn’t get all the way out there, he’d make sure to have a car come pick me up.”
They didn't stop there and went further, with Jay-Z adding none other than LeBron James to his team. And, if they reached the Final game, Shaquille O'Neal was joining Hov's squad. As for Joe, he contacted Carmelo Anthony as soon as he learned LeBron was headed to Jay's team. He would also bring a surprise player in Allen Iverson.
At one game, Jay arrived at Gaucho’s Gym with a young King James and All-Star status players like Antoine Walker and Tracy McGrady. The S. Carter entourage entered the gym like TMT at a Floyd Mayweather fight at MGM.
As expected, both teams made it to the Final, and everything was set for the huge game. The lineups looked like All-Star squads, so you know people were ready for a treat that August 14th.
TEAM S. CARTER
Possible Starting 5
G: Sebastian Telfair
G: Jamal Crawford
F: LeBron James
F: Lamar Odom
C: Shaquille O’Neal
TEAM TERROR SQUAD
Possible Starting 5
G: Allen Iverson
G: Stephon Marbury
F: Carmelo Anthony
F: Jermaine O’Neal
C: Yao Ming
As everything was ready for the legendary matchup, an unexpected guest arrived and ruined everybody's plans to have a pleasant night.
While Mike Bibby and Allen Iverson waited close by on a bus playing spades, Jay-Z had arranged travel for Shaquille O’Neal to arrive in time for the showdown as the city started to swarm the park.
“The game was at like 6:00,” recalls Jamal; others have recalled the start time being more like 8 p.m. “Jay rolled past the Rucker at 2, and there was already 10,000 people out there.”
The lines reportedly started at 10 a.m.
Back in Manhattan, Team S. Carter congregated at Baseline Studios. Jay-Z brought a stack of cash — said to be a quarter-million dollars — with no plans of losing or handing over the wager. He hopped on the team bus along with LeBron and Jamal, Shaq said to be waiting nearby and Joe’s team also on their way.
And then, the power went out.
With thousands of fans in attendance and thousands of dollars on the line, the teams arrived at Rucker Park with the city experiencing its biggest blackout since 1977. Downtown, the United Nations headquarters had gone dark.
The city’s most important sporting event of the summer was suddenly in the balance.
Attempting to save the day, Jay-Z reportedly lined up cars to light up the court so the game could happen, including his S. Carter van. The police weren’t having it, canceling the game that fateful night.
They couldn't settle this situation on the court, but the rappers and some players took a different route to trash talk each other.
While the park did not have power, somehow Hot 97 did. As talent fled Harlem, trash talk between Joe, LeBron, and Shaq hit the airwaves as the ballers and rappers ripped each other in studio and through phones.
In the end, the game was re-scheduled, but Jay-Z was already on vacation, leaving everybody behind, opening the door for Joe's team to win it all. They won the game by forfeit, but Fat Joe claimed Jay's team would have won the match if they brought Shaq to that park.
This is definitely the greatest game that never happened, and it's such a shame that it was scheduled the same day another historic event happened in the city of New York.