Greer Still Fond of Marshall, Field House
The former teammates along with nearly 100 former players will be on hand at Veterans Memorial Field House Friday to say their final goodbyes to a place that Marshall basketball called home for 30 years.
“I remember so many years going there in the summer,” said Greer, who grew up in Huntington. “In the summer that was the only place we could go and play. I remember the field house as the biggest place around. We did a good job there. We’ll miss it.”
“It was the only good arena in the state,” said Allen, who played two seasons alongside Greer. “We played in the Mid-America Conference then and they all had old high school gyms with a track around it. Ours was by far the best and the most intimidating because we got more people in there. In the field house the players didn’t sit on the bench, we sat on the front row of the bleachers. The fans sat right behind us with their knees in our backs. Teams coming in had never seen a place like the field house.
The field house wasn’t the only topic of discussion. Both Allen and Greer, teammates from 1956-58, spent much of the night complimenting each other’s style of play.
“I was fortunate to play three years with Hal and the thing about Hall is that he was easy to play with,” Allen said of one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players. “Some guys are hard to play with, but he was easy, he made it easy on his teammates. When you can make your teammates better that means you’re a good player.”
“This guy was a hustler,” Greer said of Allen. “Every time you saw him he was hustling around and doing everything it took to win.”
Greer is 18th on Marshall’s scoring chart with 1,377 points and eighth in rebounding with 765 boards. He was a second round NBA Draft pick of the Syracuse Nationals in 1958 and enjoyed a 15 year career with the same franchise as the Nationals later became the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 10-time NBA All-Star’s greatest accomplishment may have been just stepping on the court as Greer was the first African-American to play at a state college in West Virginia.
“I was blessed really because the players I played with realized that basketball is a different game,” Greer said. “Sonny isn’t a black player or white player, he’s a player and that made the difference. In basketball you don’t play up the color line, you’re playing basketball.”
Greer talked about playing with Wilt Chamberlain on the 76ers and also raved about Oscar Robertson and fellow West Virginia native Jerry West.
“One of the best all-time players in the history of the game to this day is Oscar Robertson because he has it all. He was about 6-5 had long arms, could take it down low or shoot it over the top of you. Jerry West was just a step below Oscar Robertson”
Greer spoke of being able to play professional basketball, a dream he never thought possible as an African-American in the 1950’s.
“My first year I would have played for nothing because I just wanted to play,” said Greer, who admitted to making just $5,500 his first season in the league. “My first couple of weeks there (with the Nationals) I didn’t even unpack my bag because I knew the turnover was unbelievable. But luckily 15 years later I was still around.”
Greer, who said he took a drive on the street in Huntington that bears his name, scored over 20,000 points and averaged 19.2 points per game as a professional. He won the 1987 NBA Championship and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.
“He was here (at Marshall) four years and he improved every year he was in college,” Allen said. “He improved the six or seven years in the pros until he got to the top. When you reach this level you can’t get any higher and Hal reached that.”
Despite a decorated NBA career, Greer still appreciated his time spent wearing a Marshall uniform.
“I enjoyed my four years at Marshall. I enjoyed every minute of it. Swede Gullickson told me all the time that ‘these will be the best four years of your life.’ It was true. To this day, my four years at Marshall were the best four years of my life.”