It’s always a good day when you see your celebrity heroes walking down the street, but New York City residents had the once in a lifetime chance to see some of the biggest names in rap music and basketball up close in 2003. They missed out on that chance, however, all because of a blackout.
The greatest pick-up game to never happen saw rap music titans Jay-Z and Fat Joe organising a street basketball game at Harlem’s Rocker Park to help settle the beef they had with one another. At the time, both Jay-Z and Fat Joe – both rap artists from New York – were constantly battling it out supremacy in the music charts.
Boardroom says Jay-Z was particularly keen for the pick-up game to go ahead because he could use it as “marketing to push both his signature footwear and his upcoming record.” The rapper, real name Shawn Carter, had just released two Blueprint albums (in 2001 and 2002) and was soon to release The Black Album.
It was his signature sneaker made in collaboration with Reebok that he wanted to promote, however. While the Reebok S.Carter was already the brand’s fastest-selling shoe in its history at the time, there were still pairs in stock waiting to be sold.
Fat Joe was also getting in on the sneaker collaboration game, according to Boardroom, “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.”
WATCH: LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal & More Talking About The Greatest Pick-Up Game That Never Happened
So, with the reasoning taken care of, who was to play in the ultimate pick-up game of street basketball?
Jay-Z and Fat Joe were captains of Team S.Carter and the Terror Squad, respectively, and they actually competed in the summer season of the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic, a basketball tournament founded in 1982 and held at Rucker Park.
Starting players for the initial games for Fat Joe’s Terror Squad included Jermaine O’Neal, Zach Randolph, and Shawn Marion, Stephen Jackson and Stephon Marbury.
Jay-Z recruited the likes of Lamar Odom and Sebastian Telfair – who was just a teenager at the time – Kenyon Martin and, in perhaps the biggest move of all, Jay managed to secure the services of one LeBron James. Fat Joe responded by convincing Carmelo Anthony to join his squad.
With some games already played, August 14th was the date of the final championship game and for it, Fat Joe managed to secure Chinese basketball player Yao Ming, along with Allen Iverson and Mike Bibby, who were available to play the championship game.
Jay then managed to pull off another incredible feat by getting Shaquille O’Neal to play. As Shaq says in a documentary video shared by Complex Sports on Instagram, “Jay Z sent the plane and I came up because they said Fat Joe had Yao Ming. You know, Fat Joe’s my guy but when they say they wanna bring Yao Ming up to the city, you know I got to come shut that down.”
Boardroom adds the game was set to start at either 6pm or 8pm, according to conflicting reports, but because of the promotion and hype surrounding the game, “Jay rolled past the Rucker at 2, and there was already 10,000 people out there.”
With the basketball stars assembled and crowds in attendance, the lights went out.
LeBron James says in the same clip shared by Complex, “I was playing for Team Roc-A-Fella and then the blackout happened. So everything was shut down. We weren’t allowed to play there.”
“We just sat on the bus and the lights never came on, so we just relaxed.”
The blackout is now referred to as the Northeast Blackout of 2003, which affected the Northeastern and Midwestern parts of the United States and most of Ontario in Canada. The majority of affected locations had their power restored by midnight of August 14th, but by that point, the pick-up game of basketball was beyond rescuing.
As one man says in the documentary video, “Jay Z was due to leave town Friday (August 15th). He already had it all mapped out that win it or lose it, he was out the next day.”
“The lights came back on the next morning but it was really too late to have the game. So the game was scheduled for Monday.”
Fat Joe’s team showed up for the rescheduled game on Monday, and was granted the win by forfeit. Boardroom says, “The contest was rumored to be rescheduled again in September at Madison Square Garden, but the acceptance of the forfeit and various NBA and NCAA imperatives kept it from happening.”
Fat Joe said on All The Smoke podcast years later, “If they had Shaq, I’d say they win. I’m not dizzy. I’m not crazy. You’ve got Shaquille O’Neal at that time? You’re winning, nobody’s gonna stop him.”