The Night We Fell in Love With Hal Greer
When Hal Greer retired from the 76ers in 1973, he had scored more points than any other player in franchise history. In fact, he still holds that distinction, with 21,586.
As it turned out, it was a Valentine’s Day game from Greer’s rookie season (1958-59) that served notice he could ably achieve such an honor. But flashback to the very beginning of his first campaign, and you might not anticipate such lasting loftiness for Hal.
To be sure, Greer was expected to be a fine player. Drafted 13th overall by Syracuse, Mr. Greer averaged 10 points per game in his first 53 games with the Nationals. Seven times he topped 20 points in a contest – encouraging especially since the rookie guard was coming off the bench in support of All-Star Larry Costello and veterans Al Bianchi and Ed Conlin.
But eventually topping out over 20,000 career points? That’s a mighty tall order.
For starters, NOBODY in NBA history had yet amassed 20,000 career points. As the 1958-59 season tipped off, Greer’s teammate Dolph Schayes was the league’s all-time leading scorer with 11,764 points. Just a handful of other players - Ed Macauley, Bob Cousy, and George Mikan - had cracked the 10,000-point barrier by that point.
Nonetheless, the Valentine’s Day game versus the Boston Celtics in February 1959 was a whopper of a performance by Greer.
The 6-foot-2 guard scored 45 points on 20-28 shooting from the field, including a third quarter in which he made 9 of 10 shots. Only Schayes’ 50-point game from February 1, 1959, topped Greer’s performance for the Nats that season.
However, Greer’s output wasn’t just great for that day, month, or season. It was historic stuff. Check out the following records he set that night:
• 39 points in the second half breaking the great George Mikan’s NBA record of 36 points in a half.
• 18 field goals in the second half breaking the old NBA record of 14 FGs in a half shared by Joe Fulks and Cliff Hagan.
• 45 points set a franchise record for points in a game by a rookie, which stood until Allen Iverson scored 50 points on April 12, 1997. No other 76er has yet to top Greer’s 45.
Take a moment and soak in those numbers.
A backup rookie guard stepped on the court – opposite Bill Russell patrolling the paint no less – and blasted away scoring records held by the greatest center of the last decade (Mikan), perhaps the most trigger-happy forward ever (Fulks), and another forward who had just led the 1958 postseason in total and average points (Hagan).
Now here’s where things truly get weird. That 45-point outburst would turn out to be an aberration for Greer.
Only two more times in his career would Hal score 45 or more points - a 48-point showing in 1969 versus the Seattle SuperSonics, and his career-high of 50 points versus Boston in 1964.
Greer worked his way to over 21,000 career points through steady scoring - not a few years of outlandish, booming production. From 1961 to 1971, Greer averaged between 18.6 points and 24.1 points, and in six of those 11 seasons, his average right fell between a sweet spot of 22.0 to 23.3 points.
You could practically set your watch to Greer’s routinized scoring.
His midrange jumper wasn’t showstopping, but it was the basketball equivalent to death by a thousand cuts for opponents. And since he hardly ever missed games, that’s how he ended up as the franchise’s all-time scoring leader.
So even though Greer didn’t leave too many of these “exclamation mark” games, you absolutely gotta love that his first and perhaps best one came on a Valentine’s Day.