NEW YORK — Hal Greer, the Hall of Fame guard with the dazzling jump shot who helped take the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1967 NBA championship two years after his Game 7 turnover helped the Celtics advance to the finals, died Saturday night in Arizona. He was 81.
The 76ers announced his death on the team’s website but did not specify the cause or say where in Arizona he died.
A consistently prolific scorer, Mr. Greer was one of the most brilliant pro guards of the 1960s. But he was always low key.
Mr. Greer was a slightly built 6 feet 2 inches. He wasn’t a leaper, he had no special flash, and he seldom showed emotion on the court.
“I never said anything that made headlines,” he told Basketball Digest in 1980. “Nothing colorful.”
But in his 15 NBA seasons, with the Syracuse Nationals and their successor franchise, the 76ers, Mr. Greer turned in an outstanding game just about every night.
Averaging more than 20 points a game in eight seasons, Mr. Greer was an NBA All-Star from 1961 to 1970, and he was named to the all-league second team seven times.
He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and named to the NBA’s 50th anniversary team in 1996.
Mr. Greer averaged 22.1 points a game on the 76ers’ 1967 championship squad, playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain at center, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson, and Billy Cunningham at forward, and Larry Costello and Wally (later Wali) Jones in the backcourt.
The 76ers, coached by Alex Hannum, were 68-13 in the regular season, then eliminated the Bill Russell-led Celtics from the playoffs with a 4-1 series victory in the Eastern Division finals, ending Boston’s streak of eight consecutive NBA titles. Philadelphia won the finals over the San Francisco Warriors in six games.
Mr. Greer averaged nearly 28 points a game in the 76ers’ 15 playoff games.
Cunningham long remembered Mr. Greer’s one-handed jumper, fired from up to 20 feet out, usually from the top of the foul circle. As he told Hoop magazine in 2006, it was “as good as anybody’s who ever played the game.”
Mr. Greer was also adept at penetrating to the basket, and he was an outstanding defensive player. He shot free throws effectively while mimicking his jump-shooting form.
Although Mr. Greer enjoyed his greatest success with the 76ers, there were some low points as well.
With five seconds left in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern finals and the 76ers trailing the Celtics by 1 point, Mr. Greer inbounded the ball. His high, soft toss to Walker was deflected by Boston’s John Havlicek as the Celtic broadcaster Johnny Most memorably screamed: “Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over!”
“I didn’t put enough on the ball,” Mr. Greer said.
Sam Jones dribbled out the clock, preserving Boston’s 110-109 victory. The Celtics went on to beat the Lakers in the finals.
“The 76ers had a play designed for Hal Greer,’’ Havlicek recalled. “He was supposed to inbounds the ball, come off a pick, shoot the ball, and they were going to crash the boards. He tried to inbounds the ball to Chet Walker... As a defensive player, you want to keep your eye on the ball, so I took a peek and saw that the ball was a little underthrown. I got momentary possession and tipped the ball over to Sam Jones.’’
Harold Everett Greer was born in Huntington, W.Va., where his father, William, was a railroad worker. After starring at the segregated Frederick Douglass High School there, he became the first high-profile black player at a major college in West Virginia, averaging more than 19 points a game for Marshall College.
The Syracuse Nationals selected Mr. Greer in the second round of the 1958 NBA draft. He went on to team with the outstanding front-count scorers Dolph Schayes, Johnny Kerr, and George Yardley and played five seasons for the Nationals before they became the Philadelphia 76ers, after the Philadelphia Warriors had moved to San Francisco.
Over his career Mr. Greer scored 21,586 points for an average of 19.2 a game and played in 1,122 games, an NBA record at the time of his retirement.
He owned a marketing company after leaving basketball.
He leaves his wife, Mayme, two daughters, and a son.