Fat Joe still can’t believe it. Even after seeing his sneakers line the court at Rucker Park, even after passing pairs to friends and icons—Papoose and Grandmaster Flash just got theirs—even with a global launch coming, it’s still hard for him to grasp that a retail release of his Terror Squad Nike Air Force 1s is happening.
“It's really unreal, and I get scared every time I even think about it,” he says. “So I try not to think about it, because it’s even bigger than Fat Joe. Yeah, this bothers me. This bugs me out.”
The sneakers, stamped with a “TS” logo on the heel, were long mythical designs that collectors chased on the secondary market. The originals were made in the early 2000s exclusively for Joe and his crew, and were never intended for the public. Sotheby’s sold a signed pair from that era for $7,560 in 2022.
Nike will release the Terror Squad Air Force 1s for the first time ever this year. The retro run consists of a white/black pair made to commemorate the famous Blackout Game at the Rucker, a white/blue “Porpoise” color that will be exclusive to New York City, and a white/grey/pink friends and family that will be, like the first ones, exclusive to Joe’s circle.
Joe gives credit to the late Virgil Abloh for initiating the Terror Squad retro project. Abloh, who had a partnership with Nike that seemed to afford him carte blanche when it came to remixing classic sneakers, mentioned to Joe that he wanted to bring the Terror Squad Air Force 1s back. Nike even made sample Air Force 1s featuring an Off-White hit on the heel done in the style of Terror Squad’s.
After Abloh’s death in 2021, the brand pursued the idea of bringing the shoes out while shifting the narrative toward Joe’s personal history.
“[Abloh] wanted to design one himself, and unfortunately he passed, he passed soon after,” says Joe. “And so Nike was like, let's do an Air Force 1 to commemorate the anniversary of the game that never happened.”
The game in question was meant to take place on Aug. 14, 2003, at Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem. Fat Joe and Jay-Z, who were then quiet foes, had assembled opposing teams for a matchup in the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic. The rosters were loaded with NBA talent—Joe’s Terror Squad team included Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony; Jay-Z had a young LeBron James and a secret weapon in Shaquille O'Neal.
As tip-off drew near that evening, a blackout struck New York City, scuttling what would have been a dramatic clash between the biggest forces in hip-hop and basketball. The game was rescheduled for days later, but Jay-Z bailed, giving Joe the win by default.
Nike used Rucker Park this past weekend to explicitly reference the Blackout Game and trace it to the Terror Squad Air Force 1s. At the final game of the NY vs NY tournament on Saturday, the brand orchestrated an early release of a few hundred pairs of the “Blackout” colorway, which were made available to people in the vicinity via the SNKRS app.
The drop was unannounced, but Fat Joe’s attendance, the announcers’ callouts to his legacy at the park, the abundant TS chains sparkling in the Manhattan night, and the number of crispy black and white Air Force 1s walking the court were clues that something was coming. (Those who were aware of the release didn’t necessarily gain an advantage—this SNKRS user was refreshing the app minutes ahead of the 8 p.m. drop and still struck out, fueling the suspicion that either God or Nike is working against him.)
The “Blackout” colorway (style code FJ5756-100) will have a wider release on Sept. 16 for $150. While the colorblocking resembles that of the recently ubiquitous “Panda” colorway of the Nike Dunk Low, Joe points out that his came first. Nike made a black and white pair of Terror Squad Air Force 1s for him around 2004.
“They was around way before the Pandas,” says Joe. “They’re called the Blackouts; they not the Pandas.”
Some of the early conversations around bringing his shoes back took place at the Broadway location of Fat Joe’s sneaker boutique, Up NYC. Nike sourced Joe’s pairs from 2002 as a reference in order to more faithfully recreate them. The retros are informed by his personal taste—sky blue is Fat Joe’s favorite color, hence the white and blue “Porpoise” pair (style code FJ5755-100).
He originally envisioned the blues as Miami exclusives before pivoting to bring them to New York. They were, he explains, too icy to not let his hometown enjoy them. Joe anticipates he himself will be a customer.
“I’m ready to go around and buy two pair in every store,” he says.
Joe’s pursuits as a sneaker collector extend well beyond his own designs. And though he’s known as a guy who can generally get anything, there are shoes that elude him, like the unreleased Air Jordan 3 from the 2014 Drake vs. Lil Wayne tour. He was close to getting a pair this week, then they slipped through the cracks.
“I mighta negotiated too hard. And now the guy ghosted me,” Joe says. “A guy had a size 12 out there and, you know, I messed up. I went too hard with the negotiation and then he ghosted me.”
Joe rapped about the Blackout Game on “Lean Back,” insisting first that he didn’t want to speak about it, only to brag in the next bar how his team “didn’t have to play to win the championship.” In the video for the same song, he flaunted a pink pair of Terror Squad Air Force 1s.
At a time when other rappers sported homemade customs in music videos (think Air Force 1s decorated with prints from Burberry or Louis Vuitton), here was Joe with an official pair from Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, featuring his logo. Ironically, Jay-Z was one of the few artists who could compete with Fat Joe in this regard. Starting in 2000, Nike made Air Force 1s decorated with Jay’s Roc-A-Fella logo on the heel.
Though the shoes came directly from Nike, Terror Squad’s relationship was not necessarily sanctioned by the Swoosh at large. Joe has recounted before that, in the 2000s, he was paying off someone at the brand to produce samples for him and that an employee got fired for their involvement. Joe’s connection with Nike has been legit for years now, but one imagines that arrangement had a pernicious effect on him getting a proper sneaker release.
His viability as a Nike collaborator suffered in 2005, when Joe traded verbal blows with 50 Cent at the MTV Video Music Awards. Joe had been in line to do a project with the Nike-owned Jordan Brand; after the beef heated up, Michael Jordan told him he didn’t want to be involved.
The old feuds have faded. Joe performed alongside 50 Cent at a Yankee Stadium concert celebrating hip-hop’s 50th birthday last week. Joe and Jay-Z finally shared a song when the latter did a verse for the “All the Way Up” remix in 2016, and Joe is managed by Jay’s company Roc Nation.
But the Blackout Game and its hypothetical result still come up in conversation via friendly jabs.
“Every time I see these guys, they talk to me about that game, OG Juan and Jay-Z,” Joe says. “Now that we family, I ignore that. ‘Ehh, don’t worry, maybe you guys woulda won.’ You know? I think Steve Stoute talks more shit than all of them. He really wanted to play that game. He hit me this morning, ‘Happy 20th anniversary.’ Every time I spend time with Steve Stoute, he’s talking about that game.”
Fat Joe’s long history at Rucker Park encompasses much more than the game that never was. He is at home on the sideline, and his arrival feels more like a family reunion than a celebrity cameo. He’s coached teams, won championships, and released sneakers there. The rapper ensures that his presence at the park will extend beyond his lifetime.
“In my will, it says that when I die, in my casket, they gotta drive the hearse through the Rucker,” Joe says. “You know, they usually drive the hearse through your old neighborhood or your block. Nah, I told ‘em to drive me through the Rucker.”
He had not included in those final plans which footwear he’d have on, but now Joe has an idea.
“For sure they’re gonna be TS Air Force 1s.”