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Boston Shootout

Boston Shootout remains in the game at 40

File/Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Antoine Walker, playing for Chicago in 1992, was among the future NBA players who appeared in the Boston Shootout.

At the time, he was 19-year-old Glenn Rivers, not Doc.

Walking down a street on the west side of Chicago after a day on the courts, a man he did not recognize approached with a question.

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“Would you want to try out for the Boston Shootout?’’ the man asked.

Having never been to Boston, or on a plane, Rivers’s reply was simple. “Sure, what the hell.’’

Two days later, Rivers found himself representing Chicago in the eighth Boston Shootout at Walter Brown Arena.

“Best tournament I’ve ever played in, besides the NBA championship, obviously,’’ Rivers said, more than 30 years later.

Thanks to its ability to draw high school players the caliber of Rivers, the Boston Shootout, which ran in its original form from 1972-99, became one of the country’s most prominent basketball tournaments.

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Beginning Friday night and running through Sunday, the Boston Amateur Basketball Club, which has continued the Shootout after funding issues forced the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club to discontinue the event, will host the 40th Boston Shootout at Tufts University’s Cousens Gymnasium in Medford.

The original Shootout pitted city against city in single-elimination play. Ken Hudson, the NBA’s first African-American official, founded the tournament with the help of Roscoe Baker, Alfreda Harris, Rudy Cabral, and deputy mayor Clarence “Jeep’’ Jones.

In 1972, Hudson took a special interest in six local players - Bobby Carrington of Archbishop Williams, Billy Collins of Don Bosco, King Gaskins of Catholic Memorial, Ronnie Lee of Lexington High, Wilfred Morrison of Boston Tech, and Carlton Smith of Boston English.

“Kenny said, ‘We’ve got six high school kids here that could play with anybody in the country, we ought to showcase that,’ ’’ recalled UMass-Boston men’s basketball coach Charlie Titus. “That really was the impetus to get the shootout going.’’

In the first Shootout, “the Boston Six,’’ as they became known, upset a Washington, D.C. squad led by Adrian Dantley and went on to win the championship by 1 point, stunning a Connecticut team led by Walter Luckett.

“People never thought that much of the Boston scene,’’ said former Celtics great and coach of the victorious Boston team, Tom “Satch’’ Sanders. “Boston didn’t have that New York reputation, that kind of flavor, and it certainly wasn’t touching Philadelphia. So people coming to Boston felt that they were going to be easy picking. Of course, they were mistaken.’’

“I think there was some doubt at first,’’ said Yvonne Irving, who helped Hudson organize the Shootout. “But after that first Shootout, that was it. It was an annual event and [Kenny] just loved it.’’

Hudson used his connections with the Celtics to draw in the likes of Sanders, Paul Silas, K.C. Jones, and Dave Cowens to coach Boston teams.

Irving, who continued to help with the Shootout through 1996, recalled a particularly talented player from California who came to Boston to show what he could do.

“I remember Paul Pierce the first time he came here as a sophomore in this little striped shirt and people were giggling at him because, at that time, Paul Pierce was chubby,’’ said Irving.

“He just had this big smile on his little chubby, cute face and I was like, ‘Hmm, I hope he doesn’t get his feelings hurt.’ But you know, he was confident and boy, once he hit that court I couldn’t believe someone his size could move like that. You could see it in him then what he was destined for, as far as greatness was concerned. He just never backed down from it and he just kept going.’’

The tournament attracted many future stars, including Kobe Bryant, Tree Rollins, Patrick Ewing, Grant Hill, Marcus Camby, Chris Mullin, Kenny Anderson. Irving also recalled particularly cocky players named Ron Artest and Antoine Walker.

“Walker came in feeling like, ‘Who could possibly be better than me?’ ’’ said Irving. “But when you come to the Shootout, the competition is so high and so tough. Once those guys get out there they have something to prove. Boston had something to prove. New York had something to prove. California had something to prove.’’

As the tournament continued to draw the best players in the nation, it also grew into one of the premier social events in Boston, adding a slam-dunk contest, and moving from BU, to UMass-Boston, and ultimately to Boston Garden.

“It was a tournament that was ahead of its time,’’ said Titus. “It was certainly the forerunner to the McDonald’s and the Michael Jordan tournaments and all the things we’ve got going on now. When you go back and look at the rosters of the teams and the numbers of those guys that went on to have incredible college careers and pro careers, you get a sense of why people wanted to be there in person to see it.’’

“The early years of the Shootout galvanized the Boston basketball community,’’ said Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who covered the event from 1974-76. “An amazing number of people stayed associated with it through the decades. A lot of people from the Roxbury community really did some great things for the young people.

“It was a time of a lot of racial strife in our city and the Shootout was really a unifying event. It was a kind of place where the black and white community could [come together] and feel good about one another.’’

With the help of a special group of community organizers, the Boston Shootout took a city famous for its ability to produce hockey players and propelled it to the forefront of the national basketball scene.

“It always seemed like everyone else had the bragging rights,’’ said Irving. “We wanted the bragging rights, too, and I think that’s what the Shootout brought to Boston.’’

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