Remembering Hal Greer (1936-2018)

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Hal Greer, the Philadelphia 76ers’ all-time leading scorer who helped lead the team to the 1967 NBA title, died Saturday in Arizona at the age of 81.

The 76ers announced Greer’s death on their website but provided no information on where in Arizona he passed away or the cause of death.

Harold Everett Greer was born on June 26, 1936 in Huntington, West Virginia. He played his high school ball at Douglass High School, an all-Black school before suiting up collegiately at Marshall. Greer was the first Black player to play at a public college/university in the state of West Virginia and the first Black scholarship athlete at Marshall.

Despite dealing with the racial tensions of the late 1950s, Greer excelled on the basketball court. He helped the Thundering Herd win the Mid-American Conference title in 1956, clinching the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid. Marshall finished second in conference play in 1958, despite boasting the nation’s second highest scoring offense (86.4 points per game).

He also dabbled with baseball, playing first base for the Thundering Herd in his sophomore year.

Greer was an All-American in his senior year, averaging 23.3 points per game. He was selected by the Syracuse Nationals with the 13th overall pick in the 1958 NBA Draft. In the beginning, he thought his professional career would be short-lived.

“I didn’t think I had a chance at all,” Greer once said. “When I first got there, I didn’t even unpack my bag.”

The 6-foot-2 Greer wasn’t a flashy player, couldn’t jump particularly high, and was very stoic on the court.

“I never said anything that made headlines,” Greer said in a 1980 interview with Basketball Digest. “Nothing colorful.”

Greer’s demeanor wasn’t lost on his teammates either.

“We called Greer Bulldog because he had that kind of expression on his face and it never changed,” former teammate Al Bianchi said in the 1992 oral history “Tall Tales”.

The way Greer conducted himself on and off the court masked an ability to seemingly score at will. He joined Oscar Robertson, Sam Jones, and fellow West Virginia native Jerry West as one of the NBA’s best guards of the 1960s.

“He would have 25 or 30 points on you, and you’d be wondering what he did to get all those points,” Hall of Fame guard Earl (The Pearl) Monroe said in his 2013 autobiography. “Every night, steady. You knew he would be going to pull up and shoot the jumper, but you were never ready for it.”

Greer also made an impression on another Knicks player.

“He was one of my heroes, probably my favorite player,” Walt (Clyde) Frazier wrote recalling his first preseason appearance in “The Game Within the Game”. “But that night he just killed me. He beat me off the dribble, he pulled up for 15-foot jumpers. When the locker room cleared out, I sat down and cried. I really didn’t think I had what it took to make it in the NBA.”

Greer’s trademarks were a silky midrange jumper, ability to penetrate to the basket, and mimicking his jumper at the free throw line. He spent five seasons in Syracuse before the franchise moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers in 1963.

Greer was an NBA All-Star from 1961-70 and was named to the All-NBA Second Team seven times (1963-69). He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1968 All-Star Game after scoring 21 points on just eight shots, including 19 points in one quarter.

Greer, along with Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, and Chet Walker, led the 76ers to a 68-13 record in the 1966-67 season. He averaged 22.1 points a game in the regular season. The 68 wins are a franchise record that stands to this day and tied with the 1972-73 Boston Celtics for fourth-most wins in NBA history. Only the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, and 1996-97 Bulls won more games in a season.

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The 76ers defeated the Cincinnati Royals (today known as the Sacramento Kings) 3-1 in the Eastern Division Semifinals before beating Bill Russell and the eight-time defending champion Boston Celtics 4-1 in the Eastern Division Finals. The 76ers went on to defeat the San Francisco Warriors (who moved from the City of Brotherly Love in 1962) 4-2 to capture the second of the franchise’s three NBA championships.

The ’67 title was undoubtedly Greer’s greatest achievement as a basketball player but it didn’t erase the memory of the closing moments of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals against the Celtics.

The 76ers were trailing by one point with five seconds remaining in the game. Greer inbounded the ball, attempting to connect with Walker. The pass was deflected by the Celtics’ John Havlicek and immortalized by Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most’s famous call “Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over!”

“I didn’t put enough on the ball,” Greer matter-of-factly said in an interview with the Boston Globe after the game.

Greer’s final NBA season (1972-73) was spent as a reserve on the team that set a low for futility with a 9-73 record. Nonetheless, he scored 21,586 points in 1,122 games (19.2 points per game) for the Nationals/76ers. Greer also had 5,665 rebounds (5.0 rebounds per game) and 4,540 assists (4.0 assists per game).

Greer is the 76ers’ all-time leader in points scored and games played (He was the league’s all-time leader in games played at the time of his retirement). He is second in assists (behind Maurice Cheeks), sixth in rebounds (behind Dolph Schayes, Red Kerr, Charles Barkley, Cunningham, and Chamberlain), and ninth in points per game (behind Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Barkley, Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Moses Malone, Cunningham, and Jerry Stackhouse).

Greer’s No. 15 was retired in 1976, the first of nine players (Cunningham, Bobby Jones, Erving, Chamberlain, Cheeks, Barkley, Iverson, and Schayes) to be so honored by the franchise. He was also the first player to have a statue erected on the Legends Walk at the team’s Camden, N.J. training facility in 2017.

Greer was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996. In addition, Greer’s No. 16 was retired by Marshall and he was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985. The former 16th Street in his hometown was renamed Hal Greer Boulevard in 1978.

After his retirement from the NBA, Greer coached the Philadelphia Kings of the Continental Basketball League. He also owned a marketing company.

The 76ers honored Greer before Monday night’s Game 2 of their opening round playoff series against the Miami Heat. The team wore black patches on their uniforms with Greer’s No. 15.

“In addition to his historic contributions on the court, Greer will forever be remembered as a true gentleman who used the tremendous platform of basketball to uplift and inspire others,” the 76ers said in a news release.

“Hal Greer’s talent, drive, tenacity and unforgettable jump shot made him a Hall of Famer and one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history,” commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “An NBA champion and the 76ers’ career scoring leader, he also embraced a leading role in the racial integration of basketball at Marshall University and his home state of West Virginia. As the NBA family mourns Hal’s passing, we celebrate his deep and lasting impact on our game.”

Greer is survived by his wife, Mamie, son Hal Jr., and daughters Cherie and Kelly.

– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL, the New York Giants, and the NBA. Please like and follow on Facebook and Twitter. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.

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