Larry ‘Gator’ Rivers, legend of Harlem Globetrotter from Georgia, has died at 73

Larry “Gator” Rivers, a prominent figure in the integration of high school basketball in Georgia, as well as a former Harlem Globetrotter and county commissioner, has passed away at age 73. The news of his death was confirmed by Chatham County Commission chairman Chester Ellis, who stated that Rivers had passed away from cancer in a hospital in his native Savannah.

Rivers was part of the all-black team from Beach High School that won the first Georgia High School Association basketball tournament to include black and white players in 1967, when he was a sophomore. He then went on to become an all-state player and graduated from high school in Savannah in 1969. He later became a small college All-American at Moberly Junior College in Missouri and an all-conference guard at what is now Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph before joining the Harlem Globetrotters.

For 16 years, Rivers played and coached for the Harlem Globetrotters, working alongside his former high school coach, Russell Ellington. Rivers once recounted his tryout for the team to WTOC-TV, stating that team legend Marques Haynes had taken him to a closet that stored folding tables and chairs, handed him a basketball and said, “’Let’s meet who dribble around this.’ So I was dribbling around chairs, under tables, doing whatever I could do to impress him,” Rivers said.

After retiring from basketball, Rivers returned to Savannah and became involved in the community, volunteering in schools, promoting the rebuilding of neighborhood basketball courts, and founding the non-profit youth mentorship organization, Gatorball Academy, to teach basketball. In 2020, he ran for county commission as a Republican and was elected unopposed after the Democratic nominee was disqualified for a previous felony conviction.

The news of Rivers’ death has been met with condolences from U.S. Representative Buddy Carter, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and others. Ellis, who called Rivers “a legend,” stated that Rivers’ legacy would be “greatly missed” by those who knew him.

Johnson wrote on social media that “Legends never die, so you’ll always be around, my friend,” adding in an official statement that Rivers “never forgot Savannah or Beach High School and devoted endless hours of mentorship and teaching the rules of basketball and life to dozens of young people. For this he will always be remembered.”

At the time of writing, details about the funeral have not been announced.

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