MCGILL: Greer Remembered For Far More Than Play
The Word on the Herd -- April 16, 2018
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Harold Everett Greer – you know him better as Hal – likely would not have approved of the fuss being made over him Monday. Of course, you’d never know it, either.
“He was a very private person,” said Jack Freeman, one of Greer’s former teammates at Marshall. “He would never really tell you much, especially if he had problems. He was positive in everything he said and he did.”
And, boy, did Hal Greer do. He accomplished so much in his 81 years of life – from his birth on June 26, 1936 here in Huntington to his death late Saturday night – that it took 40 years to properly celebrate his contributions. The city of Huntington honored one of its native sons with “Hal Greer Day” in 1966, when Greer was still starring with the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, and four decades later Greer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as part of its founding class.
Even 45 years after Greer’s retirement from the NBA, he still leads the 76ers franchise in games played, minutes, field goals, field goals attempted, 2-pointers, 2-pointers attempted and points. He scored more in his 15 seasons with the organization than legends like Allen Iverson, Julius Irving and Charles Barkley. Philadelphia announced that its players would wear a black stripe with Greer’s No. 15 on their jersey for Monday night’s playoff game.
In 1982, Greer was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1996, he was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time. Greer was the first to have his number retired in Sixers’ history.
“Hal’s record speaks for itself as far as his abilities,” said Sonny Allen, Greer’s teammate. “He got better each year in college, but I had no idea he’d end up as one of the top 50 players of all-time.”
That recognition occurred after Greer left his hometown and the college in his backyard. He played at Marshall from 1955-58, recruited by Cam Henderson. Greer played on the freshman team and then Jule Rivlin took over as head coach during Greer’s three varsity seasons, when he became part of the 1956 Mid-American Conference champions and NCAA tournament team. Greer ranks No. 22 in Marshall history in scoring, although he often took a backseat in scoring to players like Charlie Slack, Cebe Price and Leo Byrd.
“He was not a big star,” Freeman said. “He did not get a lot of headlines. What he did is he kept getting better every year.”
Greer’s play is only part of his legacy at Marshall. He was the first black student-athlete to receive an athletic scholarship at the school, breaking a color barrier among predominantly white West Virginia institutions. Greer and his teammates didn’t realize the magnitude of that achievement at the time. If they were on the road for a basketball game and didn’t stay at a town’s finest hotel, they didn’t learn until later that they were denied a stay because Greer was on the team. They’d also been denied service at restaurants because Greer was part of the Herd, but the “reserved” and “quiet” student-athlete never let it bother him.
“He got along with everybody,” Allen said. “He and I were roommates on the road most of the time. He was a great person, great player and a great student.”
Added Freeman: “I look back at what happened to Hal and how he handled it, and I couldn’t imagine anyone doing it better.”
In 1978, the Huntington City Council renamed 16th Street after Greer – he wore No. 16 at Marshall – and for 40 years the road has been known as Hal Greer Boulevard. The West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inducted Greer that same year, and he later was added to Marshall’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
From Douglass High School to Marshall and beyond, he stayed the same: quiet, private, neat and dearly devoted to his roots in West Virginia.
“Hal was a gentleman’s gentleman,” said David Haden, a manager for the basketball team during Greer’s senior season. “He was always the first one to help out; just a wonderful man.
“And he always told people he was a Marshall guy. He was always proud of that.”