MARCH 30, 1970
At 7'2" Artis Gilmore isn't your average anything, especially not your average salesman. He listens carefully, and when he closes a deal with a handshake, his hand usually engulfs the customer's. He does, however, have the common trait of all successful salesmen. "He's a competitor," says W.W. Gay, CEO of W.W. Gay Mechanical in Jacksonville and Gilmore's boss for the past three years.
Since retiring in 1989 after a 17-year career in which the six-time Ail-Star center averaged 18.8 points and 12.3 rebounds in the ABA and NBA combined, Gilmore has been involved in business. In 1999 Gilmore was hurting financially when he took a job at Gay's mechanical contracting company; he now sells air conditioning and plumbing systems in Jacksonville.
Growing up in a poor family of nine in Chipley, Fla., Gilmore is used to hard times. At 17, to help lighten the financial load on his parents, he moved in with family friends in Dotham, Ala. While playing basketball for Carver High, Gilmore quickly caught the eye of college scouts. They recruited him heavily, but because of poor grades Gilmore had to put in two years at Gardner-Webb Junior College in Boling Springs, N.C., before earning a scholarship to Jacksonville. In Gilmore's two years at Jacksonville his life changed. The lefthanded pivot dominated, averaging 24.3 points and 22.7 rebounds in two seasons. As a senior he led the Dolphins to the 1970 NCAA championship game, which they lost 80-69 to UCLA.
The following year Gilmore was chosen in the first round of the ABA draft and signed with the Kentucky Colonels. After winning Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in 1971-72, he led the Colonels to the ABA title in 1974-75, a year before the ABA-NBA merger took him to the Chicago Bulls. That gave him a chance to square off against 7'2" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. After Gilmore was traded to the rising San Antonio Spurs in 1982, the Lakers and the Spurs met three times in the playoffs—twice in the first round and once in the conference finals—with L.A. winning each series.
Gilmore and his wife, Enola, have five children, including two—former Louisiana Tech center Priya and 6'10" Jacksonville sophomore O.J.—who played college basketball. Last December, at the invitation of the U.S. Armed Forces, Gilmore and former NBA guard Spud Webb (5'7") visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Gilmore is also involved with a Jacksonville AAU youth team, instructing centers. "No matter what I do," says Gilmore, "the game will always be a big part of my life."