HUNTINGTON, W.V. – Marshall University is set to dedicate a statue of trailblazing athlete Harold Everett “Hal” Greer at 10 a.m. Saturday, October 9. The ceremony will be held outdoors at the corner of 3rd Ave. and 18th St. in Huntington, adjacent to the Cam Henderson Center, and is open to the public.
Greer, who is credited with breaking the color barrier in West Virginia collegiate sports, played basketball at Marshall from 1954-58, where he averaged 19.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in three varsity seasons. In 1956, he led Marshall to a Mid-American Conference Championship and the school’s first appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. He was named an All-American Honorable Mention in 1958, and was inducted into the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985.
In 2018, Marshall commissioned Huntington native Frederick Hightower Sr. to create the nearly eight-foot-tall, bronze figure, which shows Greer clad in his number 16 Marshall jersey and shooting his signature one-handed jump shot. The statue originally was scheduled to be dedicated in October 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays at the foundry, and completion of the project was postponed until this year.
A sculptor, portrait artist and muralist, Hightower also did the life-sized sculpture of famed NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson that stands on the campus of her alma mater West Virginia State University in Institute.
Selected by the Syracuse Nationals in the 1958 NBA draft, Greer remained with the franchise when they became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963. One of the league’s most dominant guards, he played in 10 consecutive NBA All–Star Games and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1968 All-Star Game.
Greer retired from playing professional basketball in 1973, and remains the 76ers’ all-time leader in points scored (21,586), games played (1,122) and field goals made (8,504). He was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and in 1996, the league named him to its list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Marshall and the 76ers have retired his jersey numbers 16 and 15, respectively, in his honor. The City of Huntington renamed 16th Street “Hal Greer Boulevard” in Greer’s honor in 1978, the same year he was inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Greer’s enduring impact, however, is much more significant than his considerable accomplishments on the basketball court.
Born on June 26, 1936, and growing up in Huntington’s Fairfield neighborhood, he attended the segregated Frederick Douglass High School, where he was a basketball standout. Marshall University coaching legend Cam Henderson recruited him to play at what was then Marshall College, and in 1954 Greer broke the state’s color barrier in collegiate sports by becoming the first Black scholarship athlete at any of West Virginia’s traditionally white public colleges or universities. In 1958, he was selected as the first Black captain of a Marshall sports team. Not just a one-sport athlete, he also played first base on the Marshall baseball team, and in 1955 was the first Black student-athlete to play baseball at a traditionally white public college or university in West Virginia.
Greer did not have an easy path at Marshall, often experiencing racial prejudice. Restaurants and hotels refused him admission when he was traveling with the team, and he endured insulting catcalls from the stands. In the end, Greer’s character—along with his talent—challenged the status quo and paved the way for future generations of athletes.
Long after his retirement from professional basketball, Greer was still breaking barriers, and was the first Black athlete from West Virginia to be enshrined in one of the big three athletic halls of fame with his 1982 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He and his wife Mayme had a son and two daughters. Greer passed away on April 14, 2018, at the age of 81.