HUNTINGTON — Twenty-five years ago, the NBA recognized Harold Everett “Hal” Greer’s impact on the game of basketball worldwide, naming him one of the NBA’s Top 50 players.
On Saturday, Marshall University recognized Greer’s impact on the state of West Virginia with the unveiling of a statue in his honor.
The statue may portray Greer in his Marshall basketball uniform taking a shot, but his presence on the court went well beyond just the game.
In 1954, the talented Huntington native from Douglass High School enrolled at Marshall University to play basketball, thus breaking the color barrier in college sports in West Virginia.
While teammates loved Greer, breaking through societal norms of the time in terms of segregation was not easy to overcome.
Undeterred, Greer went on to become Marshall’s first African American captain and the first Black All-American at Marshall, while being the first Black college baseball player in the state as well.
For Greer’s daughter, Kelly, who was in attendance for the unveiling Saturday, her father’s greatest legacy was his determination, no matter the obstacles he faced.
“I’d say the No. 1 thing he taught us was to love what you do and persevere,” Kelly Greer said. “As long as you love what you do, just be very passionate and never give up. That’s what he did through basketball. He taught us to be resilient.
“My dad was very determined. Whatever he wanted, he would just go after it and get it.”
Marshall interim athletic director Jeff O’Malley and Marshall president Jerome Gilbert each said the honor is long overdue for Greer, who passed away in 2018.
Each was pleased to be able to showcase the tribute for Greer and cement his legacy along the streets of Huntington.
“I think it’s very important, not only for Marshall University and Huntington, but for the state of West Virginia,” O’Malley said. “You’re talking about somebody who broke the color barrier in college athletics in West Virginia. You equate that to Jackie Robinson.
“He’s not only our Jackie Robinson, but he’s West Virginia’s. This is probably long overdue, but it’s a great tribute and it’s a great centerpiece for the city and something everyone should be proud of.”
Gilbert, who hired Marshall’s first Black head coach in Charles Huff in January, said it’s also important to remember Marshall’s historical place in providing opportunities to African Americans, starting with Greer.
“It’s very important for the African American community to see that Marshall University was a spot where a Black athlete could come in the 1950s to be welcomed to some extent and then go on to do great things,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great success story that talks to people about determination.”
On Saturday morning, Huff stepped off the Marshall team bus sporting a Hal Greer jersey to signify his support of the statue that will forever sit on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 18th Street in front of Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni said its placement and significance cannot be stated enough.
“I think it will remind our kids that you can have a home in Huntington, grow up in the streets of Huntington, West Virginia, live on the Marshall campus and be the best of the best,” D’Antoni said.
D’Antoni said that while Greer may have passed away in 2018, his legacy and the opportunities he built for athletes in West Virginia will live on. It is a lesson that can be seen each time someone walks into the Cam Henderson Center or drives by on 3rd Avenue.
“When they walk by and they see the beautiful statue — the guy did a great job — when they come by, it’s a constant reminder that you can reach for the sky, keep your feet on the ground and be a good person while attaining all those goals,” D’Antoni said.
The statue was sculpted by Huntington’s Frederick Hightower Sr., who added the piece to his already-impressive resume, which includes a life-sized sculpture of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, which is featured on the campus of West Virginia State University.
While Hal Greer’s wife, Mayme, was unable to attend the ceremony due to travel issues, Kelly Greer said the statue is something her family will treasure forever to keep their father’s legacy strong.
“There are a lot of very successful athletes that don’t have a statue,” Kelly Greer said. “As a family, we are so thankful and very impressed. It’s a huge honor — beyond words, basically.”
Greer’s NBA legacy culminated after a career in which he was a 10-time NBA All-Star after starring with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers.
Greer won an NBA Championship in 1967 and had his jersey retired in 1976.
Greer was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career in which he scored 21,586 points and hit 8,504 field goals in a total of 1,122 games.