Hey Pippen Peoples! It’s time for a history lesson. Open your minds and learn something. Pippen Ain’t Easy takes you back to the cool times. The times when the afro pick with the fist in it was a fashion statement. We present the first real franchise player in Chicago Bulls history…Artis Gilmore.
Welcome to Chicago Bulls History 101.
There have been many players of immense calibre who graced the hardwood floors in Chicago, one such man, who brought a defensive presence and flair to the Bulls was Artis Gilmore.
Gilmore was a standout player for the Bulls during his six and a half seasons in the Windy City. Standing at 7’2, Gilmore was a presence in the paint for Chicago and despite being a softly spoken and somewhat shy man he made himself known to opposing players who dared enter his domain around the basket.
A prolific shot blocker and rebounder, Gilmore averaged 2.1 blocks and 11.1 rebounds per game during his tenure at the Bulls. Whilst not a hugely versatile scorer he still managed to post 19.3 points per game in a Bulls uniform with his arsenal of dunks, finger rolls and baby hooks which resulted in him being one of the most efficient scorers in Bulls history.
The ‘A – Train’ began his career in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with the Kentucky Colonels, signing a 10 year, $2.5 million contract after a successful college career with Jacksonville University, where he still holds the NCAA Division 1 record for rebounds per game at 22.7.
His rookie season with the Colonels was a smashing success; he averaged 23.8 points, 17.8 rebounds while shooting .598 from the field. He pipped the legendary Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving for the Rookie of the Year honours and also took out the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
The big man with the big ‘fro would go onto have one of the most successful ABA careers in the leagues short history. He took the Colonels to the 1975 ABA title and holds numerous records including most career blocks, blocks in a season and career field goal percentage.
At the conclusion of the 1975-76 ABA season the league amalgamated with the NBA and Gilmore was to become the number one pick in the ABA dispersal draft, selected by the Chicago Bulls. The addition of the big man meant the Bulls went from a dismal 24-58 record to a respectable 44-38 record and a playoff appearance. The Bulls would lose to the Portland Trail Blazers in a best of three series in the first round.
Gilmore had proven to be a dynamic addition to the Chicago Bulls team and posted impressive numbers in his first season in the NBA with 18.6 points, 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game but there were many who mistook his shy demeanour to be a weakness and criticized him for being ‘too soft’.
One man in the know who was quick to praise the quality of play that Gilmore brought to the ailing Bulls team was coach Ed Badger, after a Bulls win against the Atlanta Hawks in the 1977-78 season.
“If anybody in the league is playing better than Gilmore, I don’t know who he is. He’s playing better than Jabbar right now.”
Artis was in fact one of the premier big men in the NBA in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. His time with the Chicago Bulls was one filled with many ups and downs. Making the All Star team in four of his six seasons with the Bulls, Gilmore demonstrated his worth as one of the best centres in the NBA by dominating the paint both defensively and on the offensive end. His field goal percentage was one of the highest of all time during his final two years with Chicago as he posted .670 in the 1980-81 season and .652 in the 1981-82 campaign.
One of the greatest compliments Gilmore would receive during his time in the NBA was that he was one of the only men to ever stifle the play of the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem was an almost unstoppable force during this period of his long and storied career yet Gilmore was able to slow the Laker great down whenever the two matched up.
Gilmore would demand a trade from the ailing Chicago Bulls teams after the 1981-82 season and would go onto be a key player for the San Antonio Spurs during the twilight of his career.
A final stint with the Bulls and Celtics during the 1987-88 season wrapped up a hall of fame career for the ‘A-Train’.
During what was a less than stellar time for Bulls fans, Artis Gilmore became a bastion of light for Bulls fans and is remembered here at Pippen Ain’t Easy in the first of what will be many Bulls history lessons.