In the early 2000s, Jay-Z and Fat Joe were prominent both in the rap world and in their hometown of New York. Needless to say, the rivalry between the two was through the roof.
Embroiled in squabbling and competing for territory on the Billboard charts and in the Five Boroughs, the two artists eventually had to take their rivalry to the one place where New York’s powerhouses could really settle it: meeting at Harlem’s Holcombe Rucker Playground – better known as Rucker Park – to field their two basketball teams in the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic.
Fresh off two upcoming albums and a collaboration with Reebok, Jay-Z had a lot to promote. So he thought it was a great idea to face Fat Joe’s Terror Squad at the EBC, as an unprecedented climax to the war between the two rappers. It all fit into Jay-Z‘s marketing plan, immediate visibility that would help sales of both records and sneakers.
In April 2003, the Reebok S. Carter was the fastest-selling sneaker of all time. The first runs of the shoes, in fact, were packaged with a CD that included snippets of the Black Album, months before its release.
Unlike his archrival, Fat Joe had not yet, in fact, signed any shoes. Already famous for the Air Force 1 Terror Squad sent by Nike to his crew, the rapper was one step away from being the first rapper artist to collaborate with Jordan. Jay and Joe were not only warring for the top spots on the charts, but they were also conencting supremacy in that of shoes.
Both from NY, Fat Joe from the Bronx and Jay-Z from Brooklyn, only a neighborhood divides them: Harlem. It is here, at the corner of 155th Street and Eighth Avenue, that the EBC – Entertainer’s Basketball Classic – a streetball tournament founded by Greg Marius in 1982 – is held every year. Each year this tournament brings together the top players from the NBA and the ranks of the NCAA, the players destined to become future champions.
In 2003, when tensions had now reached their peak, the two set out for the EBC finals to battle it out in hoops. The matchup features the best NBA and NCAA players of the time on the court.
The game was scheduled for 6 p.m.; Jay walked past the Rucker at 2 p.m. and there were already 10,000 people there. Lines would start at 10 a.m. A few hours before the game, with thousands of fans in attendance and thousands of dollars at stake, the teams arrived at Rucker Park as the city experienced its largest blackout since 1977. Downtown, the United Nations headquarters had gone dark. The most important sporting event of the summer was suddenly in the balance.
In an attempt to save the day, Jay-Z lined up cars to light up the playing field, including his van; however, the police did not agree due to security orders and canceled the match. Before long, the match was rescheduled for the following Monday. However, Jay-Z was already vacationing with Beyoncé on a yacht in Saint Tropez.
Fat Joe’s team – Terror Squad – showed up at the stadium, waiting two hours before the referees declared the end of the match with a forfait victory in favor of Fat Joe and his team. It was rumored that the game would be rescheduled for September at Madison Square Garden, but the acceptance of the forfeit and various NBA and NCAA imperatives prevented it from happening.
The no-call victory was immortalized in Joe’s 2004 hit “Lean Back,” to let the world know that his team “didn’t have to play to win the championship.”
For years Jay and Joe did not speak to each other, even while they were within an inch of each other.
Although it could be said that Joe won the battle that summer, that fateful 2003 Jay won the war. His Reebok sneakers were selling like hotcakes, and The Black Album was released to rave reviews that fall. On the album’s tenth track, “Public Service Announcement,” Jay said Fat referencing a quote from S. Carter member and EBC legend John “Franchise” Strickland: “Dude, finish your breakfast,” forever immortalizing the streetball star.
Currently, Joe and Jay are no longer rivals but rather friends. The two made up in the 2010s, remembered on record by the remix of Fat Joe’s hit single, “All the Way Up.” To this day, the two still talk to each other.
Twenty years after the summer of 2003, Nike has paid tribute to Fat Joe’s lump sum victory with a special release of the Air Force 1 Terror Squad. The model features a two-tone finish customized with Fat Joe’s Terror Squad image.
In 1982, the deft mind of designer Bruce Kilgore gave birth to the Air Force 1, an innovative Swoosh-branded basketball shoe that marked the era by introducing the revolutionary Nike Air cushioning technology.
This momentous change immediately made its presence felt on prestigious NBA court surfaces, thanks to the support of iconic players of the era, including the legendary Moses Malone. In just two years, the AF-1, so named in honor of the U.S. presidential aircraft Air Force One, became the very symbol of the ability to soar through the air with grace and style.