It was the kind of play, the highlight reel moment that legends are made of.
It was the 1981 NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV basketball playoffs between Passaic and Snyder, a game being played in the humble confines of a place called the “Tigers’ Den” inside Snyder High School.
It was a fiercely contended game between two evenly matched teams, a contest featuring a ton of talented players, but one individual eventually stood out – and created a legacy, a buzz of excitement and a reputation that carried throughout the New York metropolitan area.
Midway through the third quarter of that state playoff game, Snyder forward Clarence Richardson, known throughout Jersey City and Hudson County simply as “Boo-Bee,” made a steal at half court and headed to the basket to create the play that cemented his legacy in Jersey City basketball history.
“I can still visualize it,” said Pat Clark, the former athletic director at Snyder who was an assistant boys’ basketball coach at the time. “It was a close game. Passaic was playing us tough. We were only up four points. Boo-Bee made the steal and is breaking away. He cups the ball with one hand and left the floor at the foul line and dunked it with one hand.”
Richardson, who at that time was a complete physical specimen, a genuine man-child chiseled out of stone at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, dunked the ball with such ferocity that he shattered the fiberglass backboard into thousands of pieces.
“No one knew what to do,” Clark said. “Kids ran out onto the court and picked Boo-Bee up and carried him off the floor.”
Rafael Addison, the former NBA player and former Snyder head coach, played for that same Snyder team.
“I was trailing that play and watched it from behind him,” said Addison, who went from Snyder to Syracuse to a seven-year NBA career with the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, and New Jersey Nets. “What made it remarkable that it was a one-handed cuff dunk and he brought it down. People ran on to the court and were taking pieces of the glass for souvenirs. It was amazing.”
The game had to be suspended and was eventually resumed the next day at Dickinson High School. Snyder went on to win that game, with Richardson scoring 21, but the leading scorer for the Tigers was Shelton Gibbs, who had 30.
Gibbs went on to have a fine career at St. Peter’s College and is currently the head coach at Snyder.
The basket-breaking incident helped to enhance the legacy of Richardson, but it wasn’t the only thing he did. He was a two-time First Team All-Hudson County honoree by the New York Daily News, the Hudson Dispatch and the Jersey Journal. He earned All-Group IV honors from the Newark Star-Ledger.
And he was a Jersey City basketball legend, a well-rounded diversified player whom everyone in the county went to go see play.
In the early 1970s, it was Jackie Gilloon of Memorial who drew everyone’s attention in local basketball circles. In the late ’70s, it was Danny Callandrillo of North Bergen. Everyone wanted to go see the next amazing thing that Gilloon and Callandrillo did on the hardwood.
And in the early 1980s, the torch of show master was passed to the kid known as “Boo-Bee,” who electrified gyms all around the county from the minute he stepped onto the floor at Snyder, starting right away as a freshman.
“I still get chills when I think of some of the things he did,” Clark said. “It was very rare to see a freshman play varsity back then, never mind start. And we were very good back then. But Boo-Bee started as a freshman and just went from there. He was a man playing with little kids. He was such a dominant player, but he was an unselfish player and a pleasure to coach.”
Unfortunately, the legacy of Clarence “Boo-Bee” Richardson ended at the high school level. He didn’t get a chance to get to play at the next level like his friends and teammates Addison and Gibbs did. He didn’t get a chance to get away from the streets of Jersey City, the same streets that eventually swallowed him, sending him to prison for a stint and ending his life way too early.
“Boo-Bee” Richardson died last Saturday night. He was 49 years old. He had fallen on tough times in recent years. Unable to work and drawing disability because of two degenerative hips, making him wheelchair bound for a stint, Richardson went to the emergency room at the Jersey City Medical Center Saturday and didn’t come out.
Richardson was talented enough to play college basketball like his contemporaries. In fact, he might have been even more talented than the rest of the players of his era. But he never had the grades to get the college scholarship. He tried junior college, but didn’t last. “Boo-Bee” became the classic example of the one true Jersey City basketball talent who fell through the cracks and didn’t make it.
“At that level, he was so dominant,” Clark said. “He was so strong and had so much ability. He would have been a great player at the next level.”
“Everyone in the neighborhood knew that if you had ‘Boo-Bee’ on your side, you were in good shape,” Addison said. “He had such a high basketball IQ and had a presence about him. You walked into a gym and people knew ‘Boo-Bee.’ I went to ABCD Camp in New York with people like Pearl Washington and Mark Jackson and they all knew who he was and wanted to talk about him.”
Gibbs took the news of Richardson’s passing very hard.
“Boo-Bee was my friend since we were little kids,” Gibbs said. “We grew up together on Myrtle Avenue. We did everything together, playing stickball, basketball, baseball together. We were friends before we even played basketball together. I couldn’t sleep after I heard he was gone.”
Added Gibbs, “He was a heck of a player and a team player. As good as he was, he was a team player first. He was a great talent, a physical player, a physical presence. I played with a lot of guys, but by far, he was one of the best.”
Addison echoed those sentiments.
“As good of a player he was, he was an even better teammate,” Addison said. “He made us like a family. That’s how much of a leader he was. He was the kind of athlete in the same mold as Larry Johnson or Charles Barkley. I played with and against those guys in the NBA, so I know. He was right there.”
But there will always be the question surrounding Richardson: What if? What if he had a chance to get away? How different would things have been?
“Who knows?” Addison said. “It’s always going to be the question in people’s minds. What if he made it out? What could have been? We’ll never know.”
“The college coaches didn’t come to see me and Raf,” Gibbs said. “They came to see ‘Boo-Bee’ first. Rutgers, St. John’s, St. Peter’s, they all came to see if they could get ‘Boo-Bee.’ But he didn’t have the grades and didn’t get the chance.”
Gibbs said that Richardson almost went to St. Peter’s and took one summer class there after his stint at Union County College, but it didn’t work.
Richardson became the role model for the unfulfilled potential, unfortunately one of many from Jersey City and Hudson County who never got the opportunity to move on.
But while he was playing high school basketball, there were none better, an electrifying presence who always managed to do something to bring down the house. And one night, the legend known as “Boo-Bee” brought down the basket along with the house.
“People always talk about Shelton and me from those Snyder days,” Addison said. “But it was ‘Boo-Bee.’ Unfortunately, it’s always going to be ‘What if?’
It’s almost an unanswerable question, one that makes every local basketball fan a tad sad these days, knowing that a hoop legend is gone way too soon.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.