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Originally published October 20, 2010 at 12:18 PM | Page modified October 21, 2010 at 4:52 PM

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Keith Harrell, basketball star and motivational speaker, dies at 54

Keith Harrell, a basketball star in the 1970s at Garfield High School and Seattle University, died Monday of cancer at age 54. He later became a sought-after motivational speaker.

Keith Harrell, a silky-smooth standout on basketball teams at Garfield High School and Seattle University who later became a renowned motivational speaker, died Monday after a battle with spinal cancer. He was 54.

Mr. Harrell, who lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., Miami and Atlanta, was a 6-foot-7 star on perhaps the greatest high-school boys basketball team in state history, the 1973-74 SuperDogs. That Garfield team went unbeaten in winning the Class 4A (then AAA) state title.

Mr. Harrell, the cousin of Garfield and Washington football star Bruce Harrell, was a two-time captain at Seattle U. Nicknamed Silk for his fluid moves on the court, he scored 1,141 career points. As a senior, he played with Jawann Oldham, Carl Ervin and Clint Richardson for a Seattle U. team that finished 15-11 and beat UW and California.

Ervin, who had known Mr. Harrell since grade school, called him a great player but a better person.

"I considered him my best friend, and I'm sure there are tons of people who felt the same way," Ervin said. "That was just Keith. He always put other people first."

Ervin recalled a shy youngster who made himself into a sought-after motivational speaker and multimillionaire.

"Keith stuttered, had braces and was very shy and quiet," Ervin said. "He blossomed into a great speaker and a great man."

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in community service, he had a 14-year career as a sales representative with IBM and became one of that company's top sales and training instructors. Mr. Harrell was a spiritual man who transformed himself into an award-winning motivational speaker. He addressed thousands of audiences for corporate clients, including Microsoft, McDonald's and Coca-Cola. He also wrote six books.

His impact on others was profound, said his business manager, Helen Broder.

"Our office was flooded daily with calls and e-mails from people saying that following his message of how to maintain a positive attitude turned their lives around," she said. "I was brought to tears almost every day reading them."

Mr. Harrell underwent heart surgery last October and was diagnosed with cancer in May. He died at a cancer center in Loma Linda, Calif.

Mr. Harrell is survived by his father, Wendell, his mother, Florence, and a sister, Toni, all from Seattle. Memorial services are pending.

Seattle U. sports information and sports editor Don Shelton contributed to this article.

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