Love and Basketball: Greg Marius and the Legacy “The Rucker”

(AllHipHop Editorial) In 1982, as “Greg G” of the Harlem rap group Disco 4, Greg Marius challenged a rival rap group, The Crash Crew, to a basketball game while the groups were being interviewed on The Rap Attack hosted by Mr. Magic. The groups decided to meet up the next day at Mount Morris Park. When they arrived for the game, Marius was shocked to see that there were more than 1000 people waiting to watch. It was during that impromptu game that the Entertainers Basketball Classic was born.

Within years, music and sports stars were attracted to the event and the EBC eventually became one of the most prominent street basketball tournaments in the US. The EBC expanded over the years attracting sponsors who were drawn to the lure of thousands of fans with an affinity for luxury and sportswear brands. Marius united hip-hop, basketball, and urban marketing in a way that was previously unprecedented. Sponsors over the years included, Reebok, Gatorade, AT&T, and more. Games were often broadcast on NBA TV and inspired the film, Above the Rim.

Marius was a lifelong Harlem resident who was committed to keeping the EBC in his beloved neighborhood. He told the New York Daily News in 2010, “It’s been great that I’ve been able to create memories in Harlem, where I’m from.”

“Greg Marius was a visionary and a legend in the game of basketball. [Thanks to him] the world knew about the EBC and Rucker Park,” says Atlanta Entertainment Basketball League founder, Jahi Rawlings. “Not only was he a mentor, he’s a leader in the community and I will personally work to see that he gets into the Basketball Hall of Fame.”

Rooted in hip-hop, the EBC has seen teams hosted by Diddy, Jay Z and Fat Joe. In his book, Empire State of Mind: How Jay Z went from Street Corner to Corner Office, Zack O’Malley Greenburg recounts the epic 2003 season when Team S. Carter was slated to challenge Fat Joe’s Terror Squad in the championship game.

Synergies aside, the EBC wasn’t simply a marketing whim.

Jay-Z, a lifelong basketball fan, intended to win the summer tournament. To accomplish this goal, he’d have to unseat the defending champions, rival rapper Fat Joe’s Terror Squad, a team that boasted rugged NBA players Stephon Marbury and Ron Artest, both of whom had honed their skills in New York school yards. Jay-Z was unfazed. “He was like, ‘I’m going to bring this team together . . . I’m only going to do it once, and obviously, I plan to win,’ ” recalls Fab [Five Freddy]. “Then The Black Album was supposed to come out, and then he was going to retire.”

Jay’s team included Kenyon Martin, Tracy McGrady, Lamar Odom, and Sebastia Telfair. According to Telfair, Jay Z was a very hands-on team manager who would regularly call and email team players. The epic championship game, however, never took place. The 2003 EBC Championship game was canceled due to a power outage and Team S. Carter forfeited.

It is unclear what will become of the EBC with Greg Marius’ passing, one can only hope that the legendary summer series continues. Greg Marius was laid to rest on Thursday, April 27th in his beloved Harlem.

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