He helped integrate high school basketball in Georgia before playing for the Harlem Globetrotters and becoming a local official in his hometown of Savannah.

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Larry “Gator” Rivers, who helped integrate high school basketball in Georgia before playing for the Harlem Globetrotters and becoming a county commissioner in his hometown of Savannah, died Saturday at age 73.

Rivers died of cancer, Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis said told the Savannah Morning News. Campbell and Sons Funeral Company said Rivers died at a hospital in Savannah.

Rivers was a sophomore on the Black Beach High School team that won the first all-black Georgia High School Association basketball tournament in 1967. He developed into an all-state player out of Savannah High School in 1969 and went on to become a small college All-American at Moberly College in Missouri and an all-conference guard at what is now Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

He went on to play and coach for 16 years with the Harlem Globetrotters, reuniting for a time with high school coach Russell Ellington.

Rivers once told WTOC-TV that during his tryout game with the Globetrotters, team legend Marquez Haynes led Rivers into a closet filled with tables and folding chairs, handed Rivers a basketball and said, “Let’s see how you drive around that.”

“So I was digging around chairs, under tables, doing everything I could to impress him,” Rivers said.

Rivers returned home to Savannah and became involved in community life, volunteering in schools, helping to rehabilitate neighborhood basketball courts and opening the Gatorball Academy, a nonprofit youth mentoring organization to teach basketball.

Rivers ran for county commission in 2020 as a Republican and was elected unopposed after the Democratic candidate was disqualified for a prior felony conviction.

“I don’t know when we weren’t friends” Ellis told WTOC-TVcalling Rivers a “legend.”

“That was a big part of his activities, giving to the children that he left behind,” Ellis said. “As he said, ‘Someone gave to me, and so it’s my job and my responsibility to give back.’ And this will be missed a lot.”

Rivers’ death drew condolences from U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and others. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Rivers “led a life full of accomplishments and chose to spend most of that life serving the people of his community.”

Johnson wrote on social media that “Legends never die so you will always be there my friend,” adding in an official statement from the city that Rivers “never forgot Savannah or Beach High School and devoted endless hours to mentoring and teaching the rules of basketball . and the lives of dozens of young people. He will always be remembered for that.”

Funeral arrangements were not announced on Sunday.


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