Rucker Park Hits Hollywood

by February 17, 2011

by Mario Aguirre / @mario_aguirre

A smart man – and I forget his name – once said that if something appears too good to be true, it often is.

Take this instance, for example.

Rucker Park. Summer 2003. Fat Joe’s Terror Squad versus Jay-Z’s S. Carter for the Entertainers Basketball Classic championship.

Jay-Z’s team featured Lamar Odom, Sebastian Telfair, Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, with LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Shaquille O’Neal scheduled to play in the title game. Fat Joe had Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Zach Randolph, Stephon Marbury, Rafer Alston and Al Harrington.

The ultimate playground matchup, right?

It almost happened, if not for a 12-hour blackout in New York City that forced the game to be moved up a couple days. Jay-Z was unable to show up to the rescheduled game; some of his All-Star talent couldn’t make it, either. But what emerged from all this was a documentary from Edgar Burgos, titled “The Blackout,” chronicling that dazzling season.

It premieres Saturday in Los Angeles, with MTV2 covering the event with Sucker Free host DJ Envy.

That season, the star-studded affair was in full effect from the basketball court to the sideline, where Jay-Z brought out Beyonce and Sean “Puffy” Combs. DJ Clue, Jermaine Dupri and Master P were there, too. And so was Fat Joe and his crew.

It was a Who’s Who of basketball and hip-hop’s elite – among the most elusive convergence of its kind – drawing thousands of onlookers to the famed Harlem courts.

“I’ve been to Rucker for over 20 years and I’ve never seen a park packed every single day as it was that year,” said Burgos, the film’s executive producer and director. “I think it was more celebrity driven than it’s ever been in the history of Rucker. There was a wow factor. It was like, ‘Whoa, this person’s here? That person’s here?’”

In fact, the film’s trailer shows a barely-legal LeBron James walking through packed crowds with Jay-Z. The image captured the magnitude of that summer, with all the star power at the playground.

“Man I [was] watching this Rucker Park documentary from 2003,” James posted on his Twitter account. “Man I wish it was still popping like that!!! Man If it wasn’t for the Blackout. Wow!!”

If not for the blackout, Fat Joe and Jay-Z were supposed to coach their respective teams in the championship game. But the game was rescheduled for the following week and Jay-Z had already made his vacation plans in San Tropez, Burgos said. And some of the players on S. Carter also had prior commitments.

To his credit, though, Jay-Z flew in to New York to catch games that season while he was on the “Roc the Mic” tour.

Although the game originally planned never materialized, the magnitude of that events that leading up to the EBC title game merited a documentary.

“All these guys play for money, they play in the NBA and they make a lot of money. And they’re playing in a park for free, just to get rep, which is kind of amazing to me,” Burgos said. “I was just in awe with the clout that Fat Joe and Jay-Z had and how they got these players to come out to the park to play. Usually in the summer, these (NBA) players don’t play. They practice in the gym, but you don’t see players play in the street for free, for fear of injury. And these guys are battling each other like it’s an NBA game.”

The meshing of NBA ballers and hip-hop artists was a unique, if not primary angle to the summer. As the thinking goes, NBA players want to be rappers and vice versa. And although that didn’t happen, it was a seamless fit to have these figures from the sports and music world.

“It was a good story and a great moment in basketball, in New York City basketball and hip-hop, so it was exciting,” said Eric Conte, senior vice president of programming and production for MTV2. “Hip-hop and basketball click very well and when you see a merger like this… it’s a perfect fit.”

Yet, despite everything, there remains a lot of what-if about one of the most epic playground games that almost came to fruition.

“If that game would have happened, that would have been history,” Burgos said. “That would have been one of the greatest games ever in streetball history.”