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updated: 8/9/2011 7:45 PM

Big day ahead for former Bulls center Gilmore

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  • Chicago Bulls center Artis Gilmore (53) leaps high and pulls down a pass in front of Milwaukee Bucks center John Gianelli (40) during second quarter action Jan. 22, 1978 in Milwaukee.

      Chicago Bulls center Artis Gilmore (53) leaps high and pulls down a pass in front of Milwaukee Bucks center John Gianelli (40) during second quarter action Jan. 22, 1978 in Milwaukee.
    Associated Press

  • Artis Gilmore looks on during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class announcement on April 4, 2011, in Houston.

      Artis Gilmore looks on during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class announcement on April 4, 2011, in Houston.
    Associated Press

  • Artis Gilmore, 7-foot-2 player from Jacksonville University, is introduced to the press, on March 17, 1971, in New York, after he was signed by the Kentucky Colonels as their first round pick of the draft.

      Artis Gilmore, 7-foot-2 player from Jacksonville University, is introduced to the press, on March 17, 1971, in New York, after he was signed by the Kentucky Colonels as their first round pick of the draft.
    Associated Press

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33) of the Los Angeles Lakers goes one on one against Artis Gilmore (53) of the San Antonio Spurs on May 13, 1983, in the first period in San Antonio. It is the third game in the best of seven Western Conference finals.

      Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33) of the Los Angeles Lakers goes one on one against Artis Gilmore (53) of the San Antonio Spurs on May 13, 1983, in the first period in San Antonio. It is the third game in the best of seven Western Conference finals.
    Associated Press

  • Artis Gilmore of the San Antonio Spurs gets ready to drive to the basket against Bill Walton of the San Diego Clippers in San Diego on March 5, 1983. Gilmore scored 19 points for the Spurs victory over the Clippers, 107-99.

      Artis Gilmore of the San Antonio Spurs gets ready to drive to the basket against Bill Walton of the San Diego Clippers in San Diego on March 5, 1983. Gilmore scored 19 points for the Spurs victory over the Clippers, 107-99.
    Associated Press

 
 

Based on the size of his hair when he played professional basketball, a baseball-style cap wouldn't be a good look for Artis Gilmore.

When baseball players are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, they are depicted wearing a cap from one of their teams. Fortunately for Gilmore, there are no such rules when entering the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Besides the hat issues, Gilmore didn't have a dominant team. He spent five years with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA, six with the Bulls, then five with San Antonio before splitting his final season with the Bulls and Boston.

In Kentucky, Gilmore made the playoffs every year and won an ABA championship in 1975 playing with Dan Issel and coached by Hubie Brown.

After leaving the Bulls, Gilmore played in the conference finals twice, with the 1983 Spurs and '88 Celtics.

Those years with the Bulls, well, they could have gone a lot better. The Gilmore era featured two exciting playoff runs, but it was mostly a down period for the franchise, stuck between the competitive Jerry Sloan era and the glorious Michael Jordan years.

"We certainly had some struggles. Ups and downs," Gilmore said in a phone interview. "We had difficulties putting the right people in place to be successful."

Gilmore is one of three coaches and players with ties to the Bulls who will be enshrined this weekend in Springfield, Mass. Dennis Rodman and longtime assistant coach Tex Winter also are in this year's class.

Gilmore's years with the Bulls were all about bad timing. The teams with Sloan, Bob Love and Chet Walker were crying for a quality center, but by the time Gilmore arrived, only Norm Van Lier still was on the roster.

Since the Colonels were not one of the four ABA teams absorbed into the NBA, Gilmore was the first pick of the ABA dispersal draft, and it took some time for his first Bulls squad in 1976-77 to figure things out.

Sitting with a 24-34 record on Feb. 18, the Bulls suddenly caught fire and finished the season on a 20-4 surge.

In the first round of the playoffs, they drew Portland, which would go on to win the NBA title, and the teams played perhaps the most competitive miniseries in league history.

Gilmore's matchup with a peak-performance Bill Walton was a classic.

With the series tied at 1-1, the Bulls mounted a rally in the decisive Game 3 at Portland. Gilmore managed to foul out Walton, and power forward Maurice Lucas also collected his sixth foul late.

Needing a defensive stop in the final minute, the Bulls let Blazers guard Lionel Hollins get loose for an 18-foot jumper that essentially clinched the victory.

Rather than build on that momentum, the Bulls failed to make the playoffs in 1978. Despite adding Reggie Theus and David Greenwood in the next two drafts, the troubles continued until the 1980-81 season.

With Sloan as coach, the Bulls won 13 of their last 15 games to again make the playoffs. This time they beat New York in a three-game mini series, with Gilmore getting the best of future Bulls center Bill Cartwright.

"I was fortunate to play against (Gilmore). Great player," Cartwright said. "One of the strongest guys I've ever played against. I still remember we played in a golf tournament together, it was like my second year in the league, and Artis picked me up. I was like, 'Wow, this guy is strong.'"

In the second round, the Bulls were swept by another future NBA champ. Boston was in its first season with the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish front line, and the Bulls were no match.

Once again, the Bulls couldn't build on their late-season magic and missed the playoffs a year later with a 34-48 record. In July 1982, Gilmore was traded to San Antonio for Dave Corzine and Mark Olberding.

"We were not consistent as far as keeping personnel," Gilmore said of his Bulls years. "We had a great guard, Bobby Wilkerson, who really helped Reggie Theus be a good ballplayer (in '81). Then the next year he did not re-sign with the Bulls. He went to Cleveland (as a free agent).

"Even though we had some difficulties, I have great memories of being able to play for the Bulls and just that time in Chicago, just having the fan support."

In combined NBA/ABA statistics, Gilmore ranks fifth all time in rebounds with 16,330, trailing Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Gilmore owns the highest career field-goal percentage in NBA history at .599. During the 1980-81 season, he shot an amazing .670 from the field, the third-highest single-season performance ever.

As a college junior, he led Jacksonville into the NCAA title game before losing to UCLA. Talk about Cinderella stories: Jacksonville knocked off Iowa and Kentucky to reach the Final Four.

It took more than 20 years after retirement for Gilmore to get the call from the Hall of Fame.

Looking back at what he did on the court, it's difficult to understand why he waited so long.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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