BY NEIL HAYES
For the Sun-Times
Former Bulls center Artis Gilmore likes it when former NBA stars such as Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin spend time with him in Jacksonville, Florida, in part because he and his fellow Hall of Famers are past the point of having anything to prove.
‘‘I enjoy spending time with them and not necessarily sharing old theories and stories about what may have happened back in the day,’’ Gilmore said, chuckling. ‘‘But we do enjoy spending time together and breaking some bread.’’
Gilmore was one of the strongest and most intimidating centers in NBA history. But talk to the ‘‘A-Train’’ today, and you’ll discover a happily married man who is a father of five, a grandfather of three and content with how his life has turned out.
Gilmore is a local legend in Jacksonville, where he works as a special assistant to the president of his alma mater, Jacksonville University, provides color commentary for its basketball team and helps raise money for the school. He also serves as a sports ambassador for the city of Jacksonville, where he has helped to bring NBA exhibition games and the aforementioned former NBA stars to town to promote the city.
‘‘I am a host of things, a handyman,’’ Gilmore said. ‘‘Whatever the mayor and the university president need, I’m at their leisure.’’
Gilmore dominated during an era of dominant centers, which is why it’s so curious that he had to wait 17 years before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
‘‘It’s a tremendous honor,’’ he said recently. ‘‘It means that you’re being acknowledged at the pinnacle of everything after all the success I’ve had collectively and individually on the hardwood floor. It has been acknowledged.’’
Gilmore’s achievements include leading Jacksonville to the NCAA championship game in 1970 and being named first-team All-ABA in each of his five seasons in the league. He was named playoff MVP and Finals MVP after leading the Kentucky Colonels to an ABA championship in 1975.
He joined the Bulls when the ABA merged with the NBA the next year and went to four All-Star Games in six seasons with them before finishing his career with the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. He once played in 680 consecutive games, and his .599 career field-goal percentage remains an NBA record.
‘‘There are quite a few other people who are probably waiting as long [to get into the Hall of Fame], some great, great names like Jo Jo White, Spencer Haywood and Louis Dampier,’’ Gilmore said.
Gilmore grew up poor in Chipley, Florida, and Dothan, Alabama, one of 10 kids. He first attended Gardner-Webb, which was then a junior college. That’s where he met his wife, Enola Gay, who was named after the famous World War II plane. They recently celebrated their 43rd anniversary.
‘‘My wife is always right, even when she’s wrong,’’ Gilmore said. ‘‘I say yes and agree. I never get in an argument I can’t win, even if I think I can.’’
Gilmore was easy to spot in Chicago nightclubs during his playing days. He said he wouldn’t know what to do in one now.
‘‘I do not miss that weather, but I did enjoy the city,’’ he said. ‘‘There was so much to do, so many things to choose from, whether it be the arts, plays, places to eat. It was a dream place to be. It was a joy and a wonderful place to play professional sports.’’
Contact Neil Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org or neilhayeswriter.com.