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Artis Gilmore's absence from Hall of Fame still puzzling

 

The nominees for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2011 were announced about two weeks ago, with names like Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, Bernard King, Dennis Rodman, Arvydas Sabonis, coach Don Nelson, and women’s Olympic basketball star Teresa Edwards among the bigger names.

One name conspicuously missing from the list of nominees, however, was that of Artis Gilmore.

For those unfamiliar with the 7-2 Gilmore, here is a brief introduction.

Gilmore played professional basketball for 17 seasons, playing five seasons for the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA before the ABA/NBA merger in 1976. From there, he spent 12 seasons dominating the paint for the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs before retiring.

From 1971 through 1988, ‘The A-Train’ battled the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Bob McAdoo, Moses Malone, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens, and Elvin Hayes. Every one of the players just listed has a place in Springfield. Every one but Gilmore.

This is truly one of the injustices of the Hall, and similar to the omission of Bert Blyleven from Cooperstown, the absence of Gilmore is difficult to explain.

Gilmore possesses numbers that should place him in the Hall. Combining both his ABA and NBA statistics (since it is the basketball hall of fame and not the NBA hall of fame), he ranks second all time in field-goal percentage (.582), fourth all time in total blocks (3,178), fifth all time in total rebounds (16,330), 10th all time in games played (1,329), 14th all time in blocks per game (2.39), and 15th all time in rebounds per game (12.3).

He led the ABA in total rebounds in his first five professional seasons and led either the ABA or NBA in field-goal percentage in six different seasons.

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He was named to 11 different All-Star Games and was named both ABA Rookie of the Year and ABA MVP for the 1971-72 season in which he averaged 23.8 points, 17.8 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 59.8 percent field-goal shooting in 43.6 minutes per game.

Gilmore finished with career stats of 18.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.39 blocks, and 58.2 percent field-goal shooting. By contrast, here are the career stats of other notable big men from the same era:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 55.9 percent field-goal shooting

  • Dave Cowens: 17.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 46 percent field-goal shooting

  • Wes Unseld: 10.8 points, 14 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 50.9 percent field-goal shooting

  • Bill Walton: 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 52.1 percent field-goal shooting

  • Moses Malone: 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 49.5 percent field-goal shooting

The numbers between these players are not far apart — except for titles. Each of those players won at least one NBA Championship during his career, and while Gilmore’s Colonels won the 1975 ABA Championship (and he was named MVP), he never won an NBA crown.

But should that preclude him from getting to the Hall? It certainly didn’t hurt Patrick Ewing, a center who had career averages of 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 50.4 percent field-goal shooting, but zero rings. Yet he was enshrined in 2008.

Having not won a championship also didn’t hurt John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, or Dominique Wilkins.

 


 

This is dangerous ground the Hall is treading on. Due to dynasties like the Bulls in the 1990s and the Lakers and Spurs in the 2000s, more and more great players are retiring without any jewelry.

Neither Miller nor Mullin won an NBA title, but does that also mean neither are Hall worthy? What about two-time MVP Steve Nash? It is very likely he will retire without a ring, so should he be penalized because his teams never quite got over the hump? What about Dirk Nowitzki? Or Allen Iverson?

Placing too much emphasis on how many NBA titles a player has won is foolish. Injuries, bungling management, and just plain bad luck can derail a championship-caliber team in a heartbeat, and getting back to that level is no small feat. Too much surrounding the winning of a championship is out of a player’s immediate control to make that the primary criterion upon which to judge greatness.

And for pre-free agency players like Gilmore — who had no control over what team they played for — that standard is even more out of place.

Gilmore’s omission from the 2011 ballot, let alone the Hall, is an egregious error. Surely the Hall has room for a player who averaged over 20 points and 20 rebounds in college, dominated the ABA for five seasons while winning a title, and then strung together another decade of solid play in the NBA.

If that is not the description of a Hall of Fame player, then what is?

 

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By: Eric Lorenz
ProBasketball-fans.com Staff Writer


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