Artis Gilmore ranks as the most accurate shooter and one of the most prolific shot-blockers in professional basketball history. In a career spanning 17 seasons -- five in the American Basketball Association and a dozen in the NBA -- he made 58.2 percent of his field-goal attempts. His 59.9 mark in the NBA has never been topped.
As a young man, Gilmore (born September 21, 1949) played for two different high schools and two colleges, so when he arrived on the pro scene, with the Kentucky Colonels in 1971, his game lacked cohesiveness. His offense in particular was raw, but his defense and rebounding were sensational. At 7'2", 265 pounds, he became such a presence in the lane that opponents stopped driving on him. "He should have a detour sign stamped on his forehead," wrote The Sporting News. Halfway through his rookie season, he was being called the next Abdul-Jabbar, even the next Russell.
Gilmore never reached those heights, but he came close. In two seasons at Jacksonville University, he averaged 24.3 points and 22.7 rebounds, the latter an NCAA record that still stands, and led the Dolphins to the 1970 NCAA championship game (a loss to UCLA). The object of a bidding war between the ABA and the NBA, he chose the Colonels. At the press conference announcing his signing, Artis sported platform shoes and a huge Afro; he measured 7'8".
Gilmore doubled as ABA Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 1971-72 and set a league record for most blocks in a season (422). In 1974, Hubie Brown became coach of the Colonels and designed his offense around the big man. Shooting his left-handed hook whenever possible, Gilmore's scoring increased five points a game. The Colonels won the 1975 ABA championship, beating the Indiana Pacers in the Finals.
The ABA closed shop in 1976. As dictated by its merger agreement with the NBA, the Chicago Bulls were given the first pick in the dispersal draft so they could take Gilmore. After six productive seasons with the Bulls, Gilmore was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in 1982. He finished his career with the Boston Celtics in 1988.
Gilmore owned the lane during his five years in the ABA, leading the league in total rebounds every year and blocking an ABA-record 422 shots in 1971-72. Astoundingly, Gilmore was not only be the ABA's most accurate shooter (.557) but remains the best-ever in the NBA as well (.599). The A-Train's omission from the Hall of Fame remains one of the most puzzling and unjust circumstances in all sports.