by Tom Kertes
NEW YORK, NY, August 12, 2004 -- It's high theater -- even higher than usual -- before the long-awaited championship matchup at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park. There are a plethora of Ruff Ryders taking their warm-up shots on one side of the sizzling asphalt. But Terror Squad is largely -- this is Fat Joe's team, after all -- absent, with approximately zero minutes left on the clock.
"I think Fat Joe is plenty ticked off, man," an EBC insider intones. "He brought (spectacular Boston Celtics swingman) Ricky Davis with him for the semi-finals yesterday. And they didn't let him play." It seems that, in order to play in the playoffs, you had to have participated in at least one regular season game. Rucker has RULES.
"Where is Terror Squad?" announcer E.J. Da Mayor teases the 2000 in anxious attendance. "Where is Terror Squad? Will there be a repeat of what happened last year?" No way. No prob. Players in tow, Fat Joe suddenly appears at the far entrance of the park, high-fiving everyone and anyone sitting, standing, scrunching down, eating, talking on a cell-phone, or doing push-ups at the scorer's table. "How ya' doin', Fat?" a voice that sounds suspiciously like this writer's blurts out. Joe barely pays mind, either because he's too busy preparing for his three-peat or because he'll take care of the ink-stained wretch in his own good time.
Meanwhile, back to biz. Fat Joe brings all of his Almost-NBA All-Stars, led by Zech "Little Bro" Marbury and Kareem "Best Kept Secret" Reid. "The heck with them," he screams. "They can't say I brought a ringer." But the matchup looks dangerous as the Ruff Ones have the equally stylish Knicks Summer Leaguer Andre "The Point" Barrett and onetime Sixer (and Nugget) Kenny "KSatt" Satterfield in the backcourt.
And that is some backcourt. The crowd's still buzzing over how Barrett scored 36, and KSatt 31, in the semifinal win over Definition the night before.
With "The Secret" considered the number one EBC MVP candidate this year -- as well as perhaps the best non-NBA point guard around-- the matchup between him and "The Point" should be heated. Barrett (smooth 20-footer) and KSatt (delicious lookaway dish for a dunk) indeed open the game in fab fashion, carrying the Ruff Ryders to a 6-2 lead. The Secret's outside shot remains a secret for a while, but his passing-penetrating is impeccable. He finds Darren "DP" Phillips for consecutive thunderdunks, with the suddenly-hot Phillips following up with a couple of short jumpers. "There's another guy who's almost in The Show," Cardozo High School coach Ron Naclerio says on the sidelines. Phillips, who led the nation in rebounding while at Hofstra, is apparently making over $400,000 playing in Spain's First Division. "That's more than the NBA minimum," Naclerio notes.
The game flows back and forth for a while, but then the two-time defending champs -- with DP, The Beast, and another near-NBA-er in 6-11 Gordie Malone up front, begin to dominate the backboards and build a 39-30 lead by intermission. Not that this satisfies Terror Squad Coach Mousey in the least. "I know he's family!" he screams at the refs. "I know he's family! These guys only call fouls one way. Can you believe this? They're going to do everything to keep these chumps in the game."
Fat Joe, turning mathematician, is calmer. "We're up nine," he says. "Let's get another eleven, get up by twenty, and get out' here."
With "The Secret" suddenly sizzling -- he's hitting everything in sight -- Terror Squad has its twenty-point edge, at 54-34, less than eight minutes into the second stanza. Mousey barely notices. "I'm playing against eight people!" he screams. "These's the five chumps, the three referees, and the Commissioner!" That's nine people, but no one dares to inform the continually enraged mentor. With the lead at 64-43, Seton Hall forward Kelly Whitney, playing for the Ruff Ryders, hits consecutive shots off consecutive turnovers. Fat Joe, morphing into George Steinbrenner, freaks. "I want Kareem to bring the ball up EVERY TIME," he screams at Mousey. "Every time!" Mousey, mumbling under his breath, walks away -- all the way to the other team's bench where he hangs for a full minute. "These guys were nothing until they hooked up with me," he mumbles. "Nothing!"
Barrett and KSatt do their darndest to carry the Ruff Ryders back into the game, but now Zech gets hot, hitting consecutive hoops off of uncanny Secret assists. "Sometimes Secret is not pretty," admiring EBC official Charlie Brown says. "But he's always effective." When, as right now, he is both spectacular AND effective, Terror Squad can't lose.
They win 78-58, completing the Terror-ific three-peat. Bedlam breaks out, while Fat Joe and Mousey are hugging each other, madly dancing all over the asphalt. All is forgotten, except victory.