For a chunky, relatively non-athletic kid growing up in Northeast Philly, Hal Greer was my salvation.
He was the first player I picked out as I tried to watch 76ers basketball on TV — his style and his play somehow impactful amidst the snow and squiggly lines of a black-and-white, over-the-air signal on something called UHF.
His number was 15 and he’s why I love 76ers basketball. Greer died on Saturday. He was 81.
Greer’s game was compact and efficient, yet fluid and entertaining. He played in an era when guards were guards, the terms “point” and “off” yet to become permanent parts of the basketball lexicon. So along with a jump shot that had perfect form, he was a good passer and diligent defender. Oh and the jump shot … it was so good, he used it to shoot free throws, going 80 percent from the line for his career.
Though understated on the floor, as a young kid, I picked up on everything Greer did. He often wore this contraption on his left thigh, for what reason I don’t know. But when I made up games bouncing a rubber ball in my basement or playing with friends in a half-court in front of my house, my thigh was also wrapped, a whimsical achievement utilizing a roll of white plastic tape I stole from my father’s tool box.
Later in life, when I became the halftime host for Sixers basketball on the old PRISM network, I interviewed Greer for some feature work, only to revel in my off-camera time with him, when I could tell him how much he meant to me growing up. When I became the TV voice in 1994, I’d hope to see him at some point on the 82 game tour, only to be told he’d had “some sort of beef” with the organization and instead went reclusive, living “somewhere in Phoenix.”
But whatever issues Greer may have had with the team, he relented, agreeing to come to Philly just last year when the club marked the 50th anniversary of the Sixers winning the title. It would be my last chance to grab his hand, look him in the eye, and tell him the inspiration he was to me.
He then made my night by telling me he was very familiar with my work, that he watched Sixers basketball all the time on TV. And at once, all the emotions of my childhood came flooding back.