Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Artis Gilmore: A Forgotten Giant

Posted on February 06, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Artis Gilmore

We recognize as the February Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month a long-time basketball player who was a star in college, in the ABA and then in the NBA.

A 7-foot-2 inch center, Artis Gilmore emerged on the national scene in 1970 when he led the Jacksonville University Dolphins to the NCAA Championship Game against UCLA.

Though playing in the days before the three-point line, Jacksonville became the first team in NCAA history to average more than 100 points per game. In the NCAA Tournament they eclipsed 100 points in each of their first three games, including a 106-100 win over Kentucky, to reach the final four. After defeating St. Bonaventure 91-83, they lost to UCLA 80-69 in the championship game.

The following season Jacksonville again reached the NCAA Tournament, but lost to Western Kentucky 74-72 in the opening round.

During his two years at Jacksonville, Gilmore became one of just five players in NCAA history to average 20 points and 20 rebounds for his career. His rebound average of 22.7 per game remains the highest in NCAA history.

Following his college career, Gilmore joined the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and immediately emerged as one of the top players in the league.

He was the ABA rookie of the year and MVP in 1971-72 while averaging 23.8 points and 17.8 rebounds per game. In five seasons in the ABA, he averaged 22.3 points and 17.1 rebounds while connecting on 55.7% of his field goal attempts. He led the league in rebounding four times and in field goal percentage twice.

The Colonels lost the ABA title in seven games during the 1972-73 season and in 1974-75 claimed the title in five games against the Indiana Pacers.

When the ABA disbanded in 1976, Gilmore joined the Chicago Bulls and immediately became one of their leading players. He averaged 18.6 points and 13 rebounds during his first season with the Bulls.

He improved those numbers to 22.9 points and 13.1 rebounds in 1977-78 and 23.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in 1978-79. Gilmore also continued a string that had stretched from the very beginning of his career and played in the first 670 games of his career.

That changed during the 1979-80 campaign when injuries limited him to 48 games and his numbers dropped slightly to 17.8 points and 9 rebounds per contest.

After two more solid seasons in Chicago during which he played in every game, Gilmore was traded to the San Antonio Spurs where he provided inside strength for an electrifying squad. Teaming with George Gervin, Mike Mitchell, Gene Banks, Johnny Moore and a solid supporting cast, the Spurs posted a 53-29 record and reached the Western Conference finals before falling in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gilmore averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds in 1982-83 while leading the NBA in field goal percentage for the third straight year.

Though the Spurs were not able to recapture that form over the next several years, Gilmore continued to post solid numbers. He again led the league in field goal percentage in 1983-84 and the following season averaged 19.1 points per game.

After his numbers declined to 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds during the 1986-87 campaign, Gilmore split his final NBA season between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics.

Combining his 17 total pro seasons, Gilmore scored 24,941 points (an average of 18.8 points per game) and ranks 20th all-time in points scored. He also grabbed 16,330 rebounds, which is the fifth highest total of all-time. He ranks first in NBA history and second all-time (combining NBA and ABA) in field goal percentage.

Likely because his greatest years were spent in the ABA, Gilmore has not received as much respect and recognition for his amazing career as he deserves. The 11-time All-Star has yet to earn a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Hopefully it won’t be long until the basketball powers recognize fix that oversight and give Gilmore his rightful spot among the basketball legends.

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