HUNTINGTON — Every time we drive up or down Hal Greer Boulevard, everyone should remember the man it was named after.
That’s because Hal Greer is gone now.
Marshall University and the men’s basketball program lost the most iconic figure in history when the former standout and racial pioneer passed away Saturday night at the age of 81 in Arizona.
Greer deserves to be remembered forever.
He was very private and didn’t return to his native city of Huntington or alma mater Marshall often, but Greer was a soft-spoken, congenial individual. I haven’t stood and waited to shake the hand of many people, but I did for Greer the last time he set foot in the Henderson Center.
It was memorable.
He was memorable.
Yet, as ground-breaking as Greer was as Marshall’s first black scholarship collegiate athlete, and as prolific as the 6-foot-2 guard was during a stellar career, which included an NBA title in 1967, there was an irony about Greer.
And I’m not referring to the fact he shot his jump shot on free throws.
Whether it was during his collegiate or professional career, as great as Greer always was, he still was a second banana. It doesn’t seem possible, but it was true.
At Marshall, Greer averaged 23.6 points during his senior year in 1958, yet wasn’t the Herd’s leading scorer. Instead, that distinction fell to the incomparable Leo Byrd, who averaged 24.9 points as a junior.
It was Byrd’s team.
Then, during Greer’s lengthy career with the Philadelphia 76ers, he was the epitome of consistency, being selected to the NBA All-Star game for 10 consecutive seasons. Yet nobody paid that much attention to the 76ers until they acquired 7-1 Wilt Chamberlain, the NBA’s larger-than-life star.
Together, Greer and Chamberlain led the 76ers to the 1966-67 NBA championship. Greer averaged a team-high 27.7 points in Philadelphia’s 15 playoff games, yet Chamberlain still was the “Big Dipper,” still the dominant persona on the ballclub.
Why, even when researchers chronicle the best NBA players of that area, there are three guards always listed in the same order — Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Greer.
So, even in his home state, Greer was second banana to West.
Hurryin’ Hal isn’t second to anyone.
It’s finally this Huntington native’s turn to be remembered and celebrated as the classy gentleman and consummate professional that he always was.
He was, is and always will be a “favorite son.”
Please remember that the next time anyone is “Hurryin” down Hal Greer Boulevard.
But he wasn’t just an icon in Huntington. He also was important in the state of West Virginia. In fact, He was known across the entire country.
That’s why the 76ers honored Greer before Game 2 of the NBA playoffs Monday night.
It’s an honor he richly deserved.
Hal Greer was one of ours. I’ve driven by the house where he grew up. I’ve seen how far he came in life.
Marshall weeps. Huntington weeps. West Virginia weeps.
God’s speed, Hal. You don’t have to be Hurryin’ anymore.