Hal Greer, 76ers' jump-shooting legend, dies at 81

Hal Greer
Hal Greer was the franchise’s all-time leading points scorer, finishing with 21,856 points – more than 1,600 ahead of second-place Allen Iverson’s total. Mr. Greer died on Saturday at age 81.

Hal Greer, who played with and against basketball legends but carved out his own niche in NBA history with a jump-shooting mastery, has died at 81, the 76ers announced Monday

Selected to 10 All-Star Games, the NBA’s 50th Anniversary team and, in 1982, the Basketball Hall of Fame, Mr. Greer, who had suffered a major stroke in 2006, passed Saturday night in Arizona following a brief illness. The Sixers will honor him with a brief ceremony before Monday’s playoff game and wear a memorial patch containing his retired No. 15.

The 76ers franchise’s all-time leader in points, games and minutes, Mr. Greer was so comfortable with his signature mid-range jump shot that he used it at the free-throw line, where he hit 80.1 percent of his attempts.

A prototypical and versatile shooting guard, Mr. Greer played with intensity and a perpetually serious game face.

“We called Greer ‘Bulldog,'” teammate Al Bianchi once said, “Because he had that expression on his face and it never changed.”

While his own career was remarkably consistent, Mr. Greer’s teams rode the roller coaster of success. Playing for the Syracuse Nationals and then, after their relocation here in 1964, the Sixers, he was part of the worst and best teams in franchise history — the infamous 9-73 76ers in his final year of 1972-73, and the 1966-67 team that won a then-record 68 games.

“[Those 1966-67 Sixers were] a special team that doesn’t come around every day,” Mr. Greer said in 2017. “We knew we were going to win, we just didn’t know how many points we would win by.”

Mr. Greer’s quickness, springy legs and uncannily accurate jumper made him one of the league’s most prolific offensive players in the high-scoring 1960s. He finished with a franchise-best 21,856 points, more than 1,600 ahead of second-place Allen Iverson’s total.

Philadelphians grew used to watching Mr. Greer stop on a dime, raise straight up and, arms extended well over his head, unleash his signature shot. At Convention Hall and later the Spectrum, public-address announcer Dave Zinkoff punctuated each of his made baskets with a loud and elongated, “GAH-REEEER!”

“His jump shot was as good as anybody’s who ever played the game,” said Billy Cunningham, another former 76ers teammate.

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Hal Greer goes to the basket defended by the Celtics Bill Russell during an April 1968 matchup. Thanks to the Celtics dominance in that era, Greer finished his career with only one NBA title.

Teamed with a succession of big scorers from Dolph Schayes to Wilt Chamberlain, Mr. Greer still averaged better than 20 points eight times, his high reaching 24.1 in 1967-68.

In 1966-67, Mr. Greer averaged 22.1 points and was the NBA champions’ postseason scoring leader. Like so many in the 1960s, though, he was regularly frustrated by the Boston Celtics’ dynastic success. Though Mr. Greer reached 13 postseasons, his only title came in 1966-67.

“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 statement.

The 6-foot-2 guard hit 45.2 percent from the field, a total that exceeded the league average in all but two of his seasons. He also made 80.1 percent of his free-throw jumpers.

Hard-nosed and durable, performing frequently with heavily bandaged thighs, Mr. Greer played 68 or more games in all but his final season. He remains the split franchise’s leader in games (1,122) and minutes (39,788).

His death came 14 months after the 76ers unveiled a statue in his honor at their Camden practice facility.

“Hal Greer was such a smart player,” Cunningham said. “He had a book about every player he played against and knew what he had to do to make sure he got free to get shots. He was probably as fine a screener as a guard as anybody. He knew that if he set a good screen, then he would be open.”

Mr. Greer was a college standout at Marshall in his native West Virginia. Marshall’s first black player, he was an undersized center. But it was there that he developed the deadly jumper.

“I had a key to the gym,” he said.

The Nationals drafted him in the second round in 1958. Two years later, he averaged 19.6 points and made his first all-star team. Mr. Greer was probably the third- or fourth-best guard of an era that included Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Sam Jones. He was second-team all-NBA seven times, and the MVP of the 1968 All-Star Game.

“Those guys were great guards but Hal Greer could play with anyone,” Wilt Chamberlain said in 1997.

A longtime Philadelphia-area resident, he moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., several years ago. He is survived by wife Mayme, a son and two daughters. Funeral services are pending.