HUNTINGTON - Living in Arizona and constantly rehabilitating from a stroke he suffered nearly eight years ago, Hal Greer was at first reluctant to see his old home court one last time.
But John Sutherland, Marshall's Big Green Scholarship Foundation's director, "recruited" Greer to make the trip and Mayme Greer, his wife of 46 years, may have added a nudge.
And Thursday night at the downtown Pullman Plaza Hotel, the legend looked as if he never left his hometown. There he was, smiling with former Marshall teammate Sonny Allen, the two telling stories to eager guests and media.
Greer, Allen and nearly 100 other Marshall alums are returning to Huntington to bid farewell to the Veterans Memorial Field House, the 62-year-old structure about to make way for MU's new soccer complex. The Field House was home of the Marshall College/University basketball program from 1950-81.
Tonight is the Field House's last call for basketball, with an alumni game, a video tribute, a silent auction, a salute to veterans and who knows what else planned. The festivities begin at 7 p.m.
The Field House was Greer's home, in many ways. He grew up on Huntington's Doulton Avenue, never imagining he would - or could, in days before integration - become the local college's most accomplished basketball player.
As Allen joked, no human has ever shot more jump shots, in practice and in games, than Greer. Before he broke the state's color barrier in 1955 (his first varsity season), Greer knew his way to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street.
"I remember so many years of going there during the summer," Greer said.
"During the summer, that's the only place we could go and play. I always remember it was the biggest place around.
"We'll miss it. Progress the way it is, you've got to keep going."
Allen, who went on to have a successful career in college coaching at Old Dominion, Nevada and other stops, remembers how grand the Field House really was in its early years.
"It was the only good arena in the state," Allen recalled. "West Virginia played in that old place on the river, Charleston Civic Center [wasn't as good]. This was by far the best place. We played in the Mid-American Conference and they all had high school gyms.
"It was the best, and most intimidating because we had more people. At the Field House, we didn't sit on the bench, we sat on the front row of the bleachers. Our boosters were right behind us, knees in our back. You weren't away from the fans."
Greer has weathered his stroke better than most. It affected his right side, but his speech, his smile and his wit have been left intact. He doesn't look close to his age, 75.
His stories bounced from his Marshall days to his 15-year NBA career, all spent with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers franchise. He was the league's No. 3 scorer when he retired, and was named as one of the top 50 players in 1996, the NBA's 50th anniversary.
And he got the privilege of playing with Wilt Chamberlain on one of the greatest teams, the 1966-67 76ers. That team romped to a record 68-13 record, then won the world championship.
Greer was regarded as the league's fastest player, though he said Chamberlain begged to differ. Greer confirmed that, yes, the two held races and Chamberlain, with his athleticism and long stride, could win a sprint to halfcourt.
A few other memories:
Greer pointed out that he and equally great teammate Leo Byrd lived blocks apart in Huntington. Throw in the fact that Jerry West grew up an hour-plus away in eastern Kanawha County, that's a lot of concentrated talent.
He considered West the NBA's No. 2 guard in their day, behind Oscar Robertson.
Of breaking the color barrier, Greer feels blessed that he had the support of the city: "There was a sense of family atmosphere, especially here in Huntington. Everybody picked on you [but] everybody knew you were playing, and did whatever they could to support you.
"In basketball, you don't think of the color line. You just play basketball."
Greer's first pro contract paid him $5,500 in his rookie year, about what LeBron James makes during a timeout.
"My first year in the league, I would have played for nothing, because I wanted to play," Greer said. "My wife tells me all the time, 'Go back and play for one year.'"
Greer made his living with those jump shots, from the 15- to 18-foot range, even shooting jump shots at the foul line (80-plus percent in his NBA career, if you're curious). Allen called him the "best pure jump-shooter ever in the game of basketball."
In this day of 3-pointers and highlight-reel dunks, that style is almost considered strange.
Greer and most of the Marshall alums also are expected to attend the current Herd's Conference USA game Saturday night against East Carolina. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
While Greer is looking forward to watching his alma mater play, he is bracing for the reality of the game. One of his former Marshall teammates, Jack Freeman, watched the Herd's 67-60 loss at Central Florida before driving from his home in Orlando, Fla., to Huntington for tonight's event.
"One of the things he said is, 'They're quite a good team and can rebound, but they can't shoot,'" Greer said. "I can't believe that - that's the fun part of the game."
Greer also was accompanied by daughter Cherie Greer Brown, also an accomplished athlete. She was a world-class lacrosse player, winning four world championships and two national college titles at Virginia. She was given a custom-made Marshall green lacrosse stick.