Jay-Z as hoops recruiter

March, 30, 2011
3/30/11
5:31
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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There's some concern about hip hop mogul -- and minority Nets owner -- Jay-Z's appearing in the Kentucky locker room to congratulate various Wildcats on their tournament win. The notion that Jay-Z may have been recruiting lottery picks would be tough to prove, for a few reasons. For one, do lottery picks need to be recruited at all? More importantly, though, the Nets don't have a high pick this year having traded theirs to the Jazz as part of a package for Deron Williams.

Jay-Z has spent some time as a basketball recruiter, however, and the evidence is that he's pretty good at it.

In the summer of 2003, Jay-Z was hell-bent on assembling a team to defeat Fat Joe's Terror Squad at New York's Rucker Park. His roster included Lamar Odom, Sebastian Telfair, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and, at times, LeBron James. For the title game, they also had Shaquille O'Neal on hold.

The whole enterprise was filmed by Fred "Fab 5 Freddy" Brathwaite to become part of a documentary -- but that video has never been released, because owing to a power outage, a schedule change, and a high-wattage romantic opportunity, his team fell apart and forfeited the game that might have won them the coveted championship. And without the title, Jay-Z wants no part of promoting the tale.

Zack O'Malley Greenburg describes the summer in his book "Empire State of Mind," excerpted on the Sports Illustrated website:
Jay-Z had guided his team to the precipice of victory after a summer of scheming, schmoozing, cross-marketing, and testing his skills as a manager.

A few hours before the game, Fab met up with Jay-Z to prepare in the air-conditioned cool of the studio, as usual.

"But this day it was special," remembers Fab. "Because now LeBron was going to play ... and Shaquille O'Neal was in New York in a hotel as a secret weapon that was going to be brought into the park solo to play for us."

"And while I'm up in the studio, I have my guy plugging in some lights, he was going to interview one of the players, and all the lights go out in the studio. I go, 'What happened?' Then I hear some people upstairs saying there's no lights. I'm like, 'What's going on in the building?' "

The disturbance wasn't unique to the studio. High electrical demand had forced a power plant near Cleveland offline, straining high-voltage rural power lines into a failure that cascaded across the entire electrical grid. The ensuing blackout left some fifty-five million citizens in the United States and Canada without electricity for nearly twenty-four hours. As traffic lights shut down, gridlock engulfed Manhattan.

A deluge of wireless activity briefly rendered cell phones useless. Crawford and Curry were stuck in their hotel rooms. Fab and Jay-Z were stranded downtown, and the other players were scattered across the city. Telfair, who'd shown up early at the Rucker, had to walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge. Without electricity, there was no way to light the nighttime asphalt at the storied courts.

"It was havoc. There was confusion," says Fab. "Bottom line, no game."

The game was re-scheduled for the next week, but Jay-Z was in the early stages of dating Beyonce Knowles, and the two had little time together owing to their busy schedules. The day after the canceled game, the pair was due for a European vacation, and ... despite all the work in setting up the big game, and the documentary ... they took the trip.

"The team showed up but none of the ringers," Brathwaite explains, "because it's only Jay that can make those calls and put those guys on flights. There was a whole confrontation between the manager, the team, and the park guys ... they decide that the game has been forfeited, and by default Fat Joe wins."

Henry Abbott | email

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