I left the SI offices early last night and hopped on the D Train, uptown. Jumped off four stops later, in Harlem. The destination: Rucker Park. I was psyched; it was going to be my first night at the street hoops mecca on 155th and Frederick Douglass. 'Twas the night of the Entertainer's Basketball Classic championship game, pitting rapper Fat Joe's Terror Squad (with ex-Arkansas Razorback Kareem Reid and prep phenom Lance Stephenson) against The Game's Black Wall Street (with ex-LIU stars Richie Parker and Charles Jones).
There was no (The) Game, the rapper. He didn't show. And there was no actual game, either.
It was, all in all, pretty embarrassing. The championship, scheduled to start at 6 p.m., was delayed due to a massive dispute over referees. Fat Joe, according to four different (and independent) sources I questioned on the court, refused to accept -- or let his team play with -- the female official who was heading the original crew. "They're letting Joe call the shots because he's a big rap artist," said a man at the scorer's table. "I've never seen anything like this, letting somebody dictate the refs." The officiating crew, frustrated, left the premises. The game kept being delayed and delayed ... and delayed, until at 9:20 p.m., they called the whole thing off until Monday.
And so I left, with the absurdity of the scene in my head and just one good sound bite in my tape recorder. This, from Fat Joe, whom I stood with behind the stands at 8:30 p.m.: "There were people saying I didn't want some of the refs, which is really just a rumor that wasn't true. And it turned out that the refs got tired of hearing all the rumors, and they left. But I can't believe the refs would leave the championship game. I just don't want them to pin this sh-- on me!"
I did get to mingle on the court for a couple of hours amid the chaos. Watched a few celebs come and go. Ja Rule was hanging around for a while. They tried to get him to sing the national anthem. He eventually left. Stephon Marbury -- or Starbury, at Rucker -- came, did some interviews, and split. Someone asked him to ref, and he said, "I'm not reffing! That's f---ing crazy!" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made his first trip to the court in decades ... but he left, frustrated, by 7:30 p.m.
The crowd's intensity reached its peak when an, um, "video star"-slash-"model" named "Buffie The Body" rolled in during the delay and was mobbed on the court by the emcees, who were struggling to make idle chatter to keep the fans in the crowd -- a few thousand strong -- from getting restless.
"A big shout-out to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! Is he still here?" one emcee said. "No, Kareem bounced," another shot back. "Oh, Kareem left? Maybe Buffy would have given Kareem a lap dance."
There were no lap dances. To fill the time, the emcees later recruited spectators at random to play a pickup game, while the actual players watched from the benches. Rucker, I'm guessing, has seen better nights.