Artis Gilmore is one of four players in pro basketball history to be named Rookie of the Year and league MVP in the same season.

One of the strongest players ever to play basketball, Gilmore was among the most intimidating centers of his era.  He was a gentle giant, with a low-key personality and unpretentious playing style.  An All-Star in 11 of his 17 seasons as a pro, Artis appeared in his last All-Star Game at 36.  The lithe left-hander shot .600 or better six different seasons, and retired as the league’s all-time leader in field goal percentage.

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Gilmore started his pro career in the American Basketball Association.  He was so dominant as a rookie that the ABA widened the lane to 16 feet the following season.  Playing in the league’s heyday, Gilmore competed against such greats as Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Rick Barry and David Thompson.

ABA Basketball: Kentucky Colonels Artis Gilmore (53) in action vs Spirits of St. Louis Maurice Lucas (20) at Riverfront Coliseum. Cincinnati, OH 12/2/1975 CREDIT: Manny Millan (Photo by Manny Millan /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X20078 TK1 R9 F7 )

Gilmore took the ABA by storm.  In his first season, he was named MVP and Rookie of the Year, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Wes Unseld, and Spencer Haywood as the only players to be so honored.  Gilmore led the Kentucky Colonels to two ABA Finals appearances, including 1975, when he was named tournament MVP after Kentucky beat Indiana for the title.  He was named All-ABA First Team in each of his five seasons in the league.  Gilmore finished in the top ten in scoring in all five of his ABA seasons, and four times led the league in rebounding, including his rookie year.  A member of the ABA All-Time Team, the athletic Gilmore set league records for career blocks [570] and single-game rebounds [40].

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The 7’2”, 240-pound left-hander was a physical specimen.  Sporting mutton chop sideburns and killer Afro, he was chiseled, with a 31-inch waist and 27-inch thighs.  A hulking man who barely spoke above a whisper, the A-Train was a workhorse.  Playing in an era of great centers, he scored more than 15,000 points, mostly from inside the paint.  Gilmore played in over 1,300 games as a pro, including 670 in a row at one stretch.

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Despite the impressive statistics, Gilmore had his detractors, especially in Chicago.  One writer questioned if Artis was too much of a gentleman.  Many complained that he was passive — that he didn’t play hard enough.  Others did not think he made the most of his awesome size and strength.  Some thought the media-shy center’s style was too predictable – or that he didn’t look mean enough.

Born in Chipley, a small town in the Florida panhandle, September 21, 1949, Artis was one of ten children born to a fisherman father.  As a freshman at T.J. Roulhac High School, Gilmore had already reached 6’5” but weighed only 145 pounds.  When his parents couldn’t find shoes to fit his size-13 feet, Artis went barefoot.  In 1965, the family moved 30 miles north to Dothan, Alabama, where Gilmore played his senior season at Carver High.

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After graduating Carver in 1963, the 6’10” southpaw enrolled at Gardner-Webb, a junior college in North Carolina.  After playing two seasons at the juco level, Gilmore accepted a scholarship to Jacksonville University.  The A-Train averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds per game in two years at Jacksonville.  He led the nation in rebounds as both a junior and senior, and his 22.7 career rebounding average is still the best in NCAA history.  As a junior, Gilmore led the Dolphins to a 27-2 record and an appearance in the 1970 NCAA title game, where they lost to Sidney Wicks and UCLA, 80-69.

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Prior to the 1971 draft, the fledgling ABA announced that Artis Gilmore would be made available to any team in the league that had the resources to sign him.  Kentucky was the only team that responded, and the Colonels signed him to a ten-year, $ 2.5 million contract.  The A-Train made an immediate impact, helping the Colonels to a record of 68-16, a 24-win improvement over the prior year.

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After the ABA folded in 1976, the NBA held a dispersal draft of ABA players.  Artis Gilmore was the first player chosen – by the Chicago Bulls.  While not the same force he had been in the ABA, Gilmore was a four-time All-Star in six seasons in Chicago.  He consistently ranked near the top of the league in rebounds, blocked shots and field goal percentage, yet the Bulls reached the playoffs only twice in Gilmore’s six seasons in the Windy City.  Tired of losing, Gilmore requested a trade in 1982, and was dealt to the San Antonio Spurs.  He left Chicago as the third-leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer in franchise history.

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With George Gervin handling the scoring load, Gilmore flourished in San Antonio.  He continued to rebound, block shots and intimidate in the paint.  Gilmore finished among the top two in the league in field-goal percentage in each of his five seasons in San Antonio, and helped the Spurs reach the playoffs four times.  He was traded back to Chicago in 1986, then finished with Boston before retiring at 38.

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Gimore played a final year in Italy, averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds to make the European All-Star Team.  He returned to Jacksonville, where he serves in various public relations capacities for his alma mater.  Mr. Gilmore was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.  During the basketball season, he can be heard providing radio color commentary for Jacksonville Dolphins basketball on the school’s flagship station, WJXL.

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On this date in 1971, rookie Artis Gilmore scored ten points and had ten goaltending calls against him as the San Antonio Spurs lost to the Indiana Pacers, 105-102.  Playing in just his third professional game, Gilmore was called for goaltending seven times in the game.  The A-Train would go on to be named 1971-72 ABA Rookie of the Year and league MVP.

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