Hal Greer, the Hall of Fame guard with the dazzling jump shot who helped take the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1967 NBA championship, died Saturday night in Arizona. He was 81.
The 76ers announced his death on the team’s website but did not specify the cause or say where in Arizona he died.
A consistently prolific scorer, Greer was one of the most brilliant pro guards of the 1960s, together with Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Sam Jones. But he was always low key.
Greer was a slightly built 6 feet 2 inches. He wasn’t a leaper, he had no special flash, and he seldom showed emotion on the court.
“I never said anything that made headlines,” he told Basketball Digest in 1980. “Nothing colorful.”
“We called Greer bulldog because he had that kind of expression on his face, and it never changed,” his former teammate Al Bianchi told Terry Pluto in the oral history “Tall Tales” (1992).
But in his 15 NBA seasons, with the Syracuse Nationals and their successor franchise, the 76ers, Greer turned in an outstanding game just about every night.
Earl Monroe, who faced Greer while playing for the Baltimore Bullets and the Knicks, recalled how Greer would pile up points in an unspectacular but devastating way.
“He would have 25 or 30 points on you, and you’d be wondering what he did to get all those points,” Monroe recalled in “Earl the Pearl” (2013, with Quincy Troupe). “Every night, steady. You knew he would be going to pull up and shoot the jumper, but you were never ready for it.”
Averaging more than 20 points a game in eight seasons, Greer was an NBA All-Star from 1961 to 1970, and he was named to the all-league second team seven times.
He was voted most valuable player of the 1968 All-Star Game, scoring a record 19 points in a single quarter. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and named to the NBA’s 50th anniversary team in 1996.
Greer averaged 22.1 points a game on the 76ers’ 1967 championship squad, playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain at center, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and Billy Cunningham at forward, and Larry Costello and Wally (later Wali) Jones in the backcourt.
The 76ers, coached by Alex Hannum, were 68-13 in the regular season, then eliminated the Bill Russell-led Celtics from the playoffs with a 4-games-to-1 victory in the Eastern Division finals, ending Boston’s streak of eight consecutive NBA titles. Philadelphia won the finals over the San Francisco Warriors in six games.
Greer averaged nearly 28 points a game in the 76ers’ 15 playoff games.
Cunningham long remembered Greer’s one-handed jumper, fired from up to 20 feet out, usually from the top of the foul circle. As he told Hoop magazine in 2006, it was “as good as anybody’s who ever played the game.”
Greer was also adept at penetrating to the basket, and he was an outstanding defensive player. He shot free throws effectively while mimicking his jump-shooting form.
“I would like to be remembered as a great, consistent player,” he once told The Philadelphia Daily News.
Harold Everett Greer was born on June 26, 1936, in Huntington, West Virginia, where his father, William, was a railroad worker. After starring at the segregated Frederick Douglass High School there, he became the first high-profile black player at a major college in West Virginia, averaging more than 19 points a game for Marshall College (now Marshall University) in Huntington.
Earl Lloyd, the first black player in the NBA, with the Washington Capitols in 1950, played at the historically black West Virginia State.
The Syracuse Nationals selected Greer in the second round of the 1958 NBA draft. “I didn’t think I had a chance at all,” he once said. “When I first got there, I didn’t even unpack my bag.”
But Greer went on to team with the outstanding front-count scorers Dolph Schayes, Johnny Kerr and George Yardley and played five seasons for the Nationals before they became the Philadelphia 76ers, after the Philadelphia Warriors had moved to San Francisco.
Although Greer enjoyed his greatest success with the 76ers, there were some low points as well.
With 5 seconds left in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Division finals and the 76ers trailing the Celtics by 1 point, Greer inbounded the ball. His high, soft toss to Walker was deflected by Boston’s John Havlicek as the Celtic broadcaster Johnny Most memorably screamed: “Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over!”
“I didn’t put enough on the ball,” Greer told The Boston Globe afterward.
In his final season, Greer was a substitute on a famously awful team, the 1972-73 Sixers, who went 9-73.
Over his career he scored 21,586 points for an average of 19.2 a game and played in 1,122 games, an NBA record at the time of his retirement.
He owned a marketing company after leaving basketball.
He and his wife, Mayme, had two daughters, Cherie and Kelly, and a son, Hal Jr. The 76ers said all survive him.
Greer may have been a steady and quiet sort, but one night in the fall of 1967 he showed a thing or two to a Knicks rookie who would come to epitomize flash.
“He was one of my heroes, probably my favorite player,” Walt Frazier wrote in recalling his first preseason appearance in “The Game Within the Game” (2006, with Dan Markowitz). “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.”