The fans and the
press expected the magic to continue the next season, but it didn't. The Bulls
lost something over the summer—no one is quite sure what—and haven't finished
above .500 or made the playoffs since. And there are those who say the problem
is still Gilmore's lack of effort. "That's wrong," says Bulls General
Manager Rod Thorn. "Artis may look like he doesn't care, but he plays as
hard as he can. It's not his personality to be vocal and obnoxious. Nobody
realizes how many minutes he plays, how many fouls he takes or how far he has
to move that huge body. Artis is not a finesse player like Jabbar or Sampson.
He's a strength player who really takes a beating. And he's playing better this
year than ever."
The Bulls, in
fact, are daring to think playoffs once again. In hope, apparently, of
battering opponents to death, Thorn and blue-jeaned Managing Partner Jonathan
Kovler have assembled the tallest starting lineup in the NBA, averaging
6'9" across the board—6'7" Reggie Theus and 6'7" Bobby Wilkerson at
guard, 6'9" Larry Kenon and 6'9½" David Greenwood at forward, Gilmore
at center. In the past three weeks these Goliaths have won 10 of 14 games, and
Chicago's 31-31 record, compared to 20-42 at this time last season, has given
the Goliaths a 1½-game lead over Washington for the Eastern Conference's last
At times the Bulls
have played like a big, slick machine, crashing the boards and flying down the
court behind Theus' wild Las Vegas dealings. Chicago destroyed the Celtics
108-85 during its current hot streak by playing that way. But at other times
the Bulls have looked lethargic, as when they lost to the wretched Dallas
Mavericks in late January. "I guess we're just moody," shrugs
Greenwood. "There are times I can feel, yeah, it's there, and then it's
gone. Don't ask me where."
Kovler intends to
find it, wherever it has gone, regardless of cost. "We have unlimited funds
to build up this team," he says determinedly. "All seven Bulls' owners
are in the Jerry Buss-Fitz Dixon financial league. The names Arthur Wirtz,
George Steinbrenner and Lamar Hunt should sound familiar. They're owners. Plus
we haven't mortgaged our future. We have two first-round draft choices this
year. And we have Artis. As Al McGuire says, 'The first thing you need is an
aircraft carrier.' "
The Bulls have
just crushed Golden State in Chicago, and Gilmore is lying on the locker-room
floor with bags of ice underneath and on top of each knee. For years this is
how he has unwound after games. There are people around him now, the press and
others, and they are staring at him. Giimore is worthy of inspection even when
lying down. But he's oblivious to the onlookers, his eyes are closed, he's
Mike Adamle, the
NBC sportscaster. is a friend of Gilmore's—Rudoy represents them both—and he
understands the need people seem to have to simply look at Artis. Two summers
ago while vacationing together in Jamaica, Adamle, Gil-more and a few other
Rudoy clients spent an afternoon jumping off a 50-foot cliff into the sea.
"All of us dropped according to Newton's law of gravity," says Adamle.
"Then Artis jumped, and it was wonderful, like suspended animation. It
seemed to take him 30 seconds to hit water, this giant black swan. And that's
the thing, you're mesmerized by Artis because he's such an awesome human
Gilmore opens his eyes. Where has he been? Reviewing the game? Down on a reef
somewhere, stabilized with a weight belt and custom-built flippers? Back in
Chipley, the town of 3,347 where he was accepted—"Everybody knew me while I
was growing, so it was no big thing"—but not expected to succeed? Nobody
was. The town was poor and black. The high school court was outside, cracked
asphalt, and rainouts were frequent. During cold spells players on the bench
warmed themselves around bonfires. "I've never really been hungry,"
says Enola Gay. "But Artis has. We've talked a lot about how he grew up,
about how he dreamed of things he saw in books. It has made him thankful and
humble. But he's very quiet, and there's so much he keeps inside."
the reporters' questions in a soft, careful voice. He doesn't dislike the
press, but he would be happy if sports-writers never talked to him. He doesn't
care about the things they can give him—fame, controversy, a forum. What the
Tall Man needs most is understanding. He lives under virtually total
surveillance. At various times Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Bill
Walton, Moses Malone and others of their stature have become near recluses. All
of them, if they chose, could speak knowingly of solitude, self-consciousness
and the loneliness of crowds. Tom Boerwinkle, who was Gilmore's 6'11"
backup for three years with the Bulls, talks of the night he and Gilmore sat
for hours in a back booth in a dark little bar in Boston and "spilled our
souls to each other." Boerwinkle won't say specifically what they talked
about, just Tall Man stuff.
Gilmore is a different man away from basketball. Taken as just another tourist
or good buddy, he soon acts that way. "I remember we—Herb Rudoy's crew—were
at the Club Med in Martinique," says Adamle. "We were watching the
employees put on this rendition of Hello Dolly, and some of us were wondering
why Artis wasn't around. We hadn't seen him in a while. It got down to the
feature number, the big production, and when the curtain opened, there was
Artis onstage, wearing a dress and with his hair in curlers, lip-synching the
words to the title song. It was unreal."
increasingly finds himself seeking wide-open places after hours, places where
his height counts for little or nothing. Financially, he is well set, with real
estate investments that should allow him plenty of time to decide on a career
after basketball, something he is unsure about at present. In the off-season he
spends time with his children, travels, recoups. He enjoys golf—he wields a
four-foot driver and an 18 handicap—and he wants to try gliding, but his real
passion is scuba diving. "Ever since I saw Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges on
TV as a kid, I told myself that if I ever got the money I was going to go
diving," he says. "To enter another environment, to just float and look
into another world and only hear bubbles, that's a pleasure."