Considering the latent sheer force he could muster, there was no doubt the A-Train could steamroll anybody. Standing 7’2″ and weighing 240 lbs., Artis Gilmore was the biggest and strongest man in the history of the ABA. However, Gilmore was somewhat of a gentle giant, generally affable and gracious. He played basketball with strength, but never resorted to using his power as a despotic, diabolical force like other players who’d have been uncontrollable intimidators if they possessed Artis’ capabilities.
Artis merely used his towering frame and divine strength to just win ball games. And he won a lot of ball games.
Teaming with Louie Dampier and Dan Issel, Gilmore formed the core of the Kentucky Colonels who were always in title contention in the ABA. In his rookie year of 1972, Artis’ Colonels won an ABA record 68 games. The next year they made the ABA Finals only to be downed by the Indiana Pacers in 7 games. In 1975, the Colonels exacted revenge by beating Indiana in five games to capture the title.
When the ABA shuttered its doors and merged with the NBA, Gilmore was THE big prize since the Colonels were folding and presumably any NBA team had a shot at the skyline tall center. Truthfully, though, the fix was in and the Chicago Bulls were awarded Gilmore as a way to invigorate basketball in the NBA’s third-largest market. Things didn’t quite work out as the A-Train was derailed by a cast of unremarkable players until 1981 when Reggie Theus gave him some aid and the Bulls won a playoff series.
All and all, though, the Chicago days were disappointing from a team perspective, but Artis was not slowing down one bit.
During his Chicago stay, Gilmore averaged 20 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. His field goal percentage, already exceedingly high, rocketed to the moon. He led the league in 1981 with a field goal percentage of .670. Over the next five years he maintained a shooting percentage of over 60%.
He shot so high from the field thanks to two shots: the dunk and the hook. His dunks weren’t flashy, but holy Naismith did they deliver some force. If Artis rose for a dunk you weren’t likely to stop him without some serious repercussions for your own well-being. The A-Train’s hook shot was nearly as devastating as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s more famed sky hook, but it was no where near as graceful.
Indeed, take stock of what’s just been mentioned: Gilmore dunked powerfully, but not with flash. He dropped hooks, but they weren’t pretty. The A-Train’s other nickname was “Rigor Artis” as the big man petrified as his career wore on.
Even as he once again found team success with the San Antonio Spurs during the mid-1980s, Gilmore’s game just never enlivened the average imagination. His best attributes were rebounding, stonewall defense and flawless shot selection. The closest thing to gorgeousness Gilmore had on the court was a precipitous drop step.
When it’s all said and done, Gilmore will never be first choice for most entertaining center, but there’s definitely a beauty in his methodical, unrelenting style and power.
Years Played: 1971 – 1988
Playoff MVP (1975)
Rookie of the Year (1972)
5x All-ABA 1st Team (1972-’76)
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1973-’76)
5x All-Star (1972-’76)
All-Star Game MVP (1974)
All-Rookie Team (1972)
6x All-Star (1978-’79, 1981-’83, 1986)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1978)
ABA – 420 Games
22.3 PPG, 17.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 3.4 BPG, 55.7% FG, 66.8% FT
4x RPG Leader (1972-’74, 1976), 2x FG% Leader (1972-’73)
NBA – 909 Games
17.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.9 BPG, 59.9% FG, 71.3% FT
4x FG% Leader (1981-’84)
Contemporary NBA/ABA Ranks (1971-72 season through 1987-88 season)
5th Points, 38th PPG
5th FGs Made, 2nd FG%
4th FTs Made, 30th Assists
1st Rebounds, 4th RPG
1st Blocks, 3rd BPG
1st Games Played, 2nd Minutes Played