Larry “Gator” Rivers, a pioneering athlete who played with the Harlem Globetrotters before going home to Georgia to become an elected official, died on Saturday, a colleague confirmed.
Chester Ellis, the chairman of the Chatham County board of commissioners, told the Savannah Morning News that Rivers had died from cancer. He was 73.
As a high schooler, the 6-foot-1 Rivers made his name as a member of the Beach High Bulldogs of Savannah, the all-Black team that won the first integrated Georgia High School Association basketball tournament in 1967.
He joined the Globetrotters and spent 16 years as a player and coach for the famed exhibition team. Returning to Savannah in 2008, Rivers worked as a community volunteer, mentoring young players through his Gatorball Academy.
He was elected to the Chatham County board of commissioners as a Republican in 2020. In a statement hailing Rivers as a “hometown basketball legend,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said, “He led a life of accomplishment and chose to spend much of that life serving the people of his community.”
The basketball community has lost a Legend. Our hearts are with the family, friends and fans of Larry "Gator" Rivers.#LegendsForever pic.twitter.com/4DX1pBOMFf— NBA Alumni 🏀 (@NBAalumni) April 30, 2023
As a kid I loved the Globetrotters. I recall Gator and his NBA level skills. Another great American from our past now gone. There aren’t that many left and when they are all gone our country in steep decline will follow.