Usually when I attend the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies, people come up to me and ask, "Why isn't Artis Gilmore in the Hall?" I could never answer them. Anyone who played professional basketball during Gilmore's time will tell you that, next to Wilt Chamberlain, he was the strongest man to ever play in the league. We're talking about a 7-foot-2, 250-pound guy who was tremendously coordinated. His super strength, great timing and incredible athleticism made him an unstoppable force. And I'm very happy that this year, after being on the threshold 10 or 12 times, he will be recognized.
In Gilmore's five years in the ABA, he led all players in shot-blocking and was named to the All-ABA and All-Defense first team every year. His field goal percentage was over 60 percent and he was a force on the boards. In addition to these incredible statistics, Gilmore never missed a game during this span. And I was there to witness his dominance firsthand.
When I took over as head coach of the Kentucky Colonels in 1974, we had a 10-person roster and four new players. Stan Albeck and I were new coaches working with a fresh nucleus, but we were eventually able to find success and Gilmore was the key to that. We won the ABA championship over the New York Nets 108-99 and ended the season 22-3. Gilmore was named the most valuable player of the playoffs and the finals.
When the ABA and NBA merged, Gilmore was picked up by Chicago. He averaged a double-double and made the All-Star team all six of his years there. And just like his ABA years, he was incredibly reliable, playing in 680 straight games before he had an injury. Although nobody can really explain why it took so long for Gilmore to get inducted, his stint in San Antonio was overshadowed by the success of the Lakers. From 1981-1986, he made the All-Star team four times and played some of his best basketball. But the Lakers were in the NBA Finals eight times that decade, so Gilmore's Spurs would always come in second.
One thing Gilmore should never be considered second in is shot-blocking. Rick Barry claims that Gilmore is the greatest shot-blocker he ever played against. And remember, Barry played against all the great shot blockers expect for probably Bill Russell. He's played against Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, you name it. So for him to say that really means something.
But beyond the court and the locker room, Gilmore is just a great human being. If you asked anyone who played with him or against him, they would tell you he's a wonderful guy. He was a great teammate and was very accountable for his professional job. In my two years coaching him, he was never fined for being late. He also has a great family and has been married almost 40 years, so this weekend will be a special time for all of them.
And, for the first in many years, I won't have to try to explain why such a powerful figure in basketball isn't in the Hall of Fame. Congratulations on a well-deserved honor.