View Full Version : 1987 Draft's number 2 pick Armon Gilliam dies during pickup game

07-06-2011, 04:01 PM
When former UNLV star and NBA veteran Armon Gilliam came out of retirement in 2005 to become player-coach of the ABA's now-defunct Pittsburgh Xplosion at age 41, he certainly didn't do it for the lucrative paycheck.

"If I wanted to make money, I'd go overseas," Gilliam told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. "I do this for the love of the game."

It's tragic but fitting then that Gilliam died Tuesday night doing what he enjoyed most. The 47-year-old Pennsylvania resident was playing in a pickup basketball game at the LA Fitness in Bridgeville when he collapsed on the court as a result of an apparent heart attack. He was rushed to nearby St. Clair Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Gilliam's death shocked his former UNLV teammates and coaches, especially since he was seldom hurt throughout his 13-year pro career and he kept himself in excellent shape afterward by playing basketball and tennis almost daily. In fact, the 6-foot-9 big man routinely beat men younger than him down the floor during UNLV's annual legends game and unleashed a memorable dunk during last season's event.

"Everybody loved Armon and he loved everybody," former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said through a UNLV spokesman. "I think the world of him. I am just shocked."

A football player and a wrestler throughout much of his high school career in Bethel Park, Pa., Gilliam only began dabbling in basketball during his junior year of high school. He played two seasons in high school and another year at Independence Junior College in Kansas before blossoming into an All-American at UNLV.

Even though he spent his college years in Sin City, Gilliam earned a reputation as UNLV's most straight-laced player of his era. He devoted so much energy into sculpting his chiseled 250-pound body that he neither smoked nor drank, and he'd carry a pull-up bar with him on road trips so he could work out in his hotel room.

Former UNLV big man Leon Symanski describes Gilliam as "a real sweet guy" off the court, but he acknowledges his ex-Rebels teammate lived up to his nickname of "The Hammer" during practices.

"He beat the hell out of me every day," Symanksi said. "You couldn't move him even if you tried. He'd get down in the low post and it was like trying to move a 1,000-pound steel weight. He was that strong."

In 1987, Gilliam parlayed his strength and physicality into a brilliant senior season, scoring 23.8 points per game and leading the Runnin' Rebels to an NCAA record 38 wins and a berth in the Final Four. The Phoenix Suns rewarded Gilliam for his brilliant senior season, making him the No. 2 overall pick in the 1987 draft, ahead of future stars Scottie Pippen (No. 5), Kevin Johnson (No. 7) and Reggie Miller (No. 11).

Gilliam never achieved the level of stardom those three did, but he was a consistently productive player until he retired from the NBA in 2000. He scored more than 12,000 points and grabbed more than 6,000 rebounds in his NBA career.

Upon his retirement, Gilliam still couldn't stay away from the game so he endured an unsuccessful stint coaching Penn State-Altoona before his lone season with the Xplosion. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he was a regular at the Bridgeville LA Fitness the past few years and played pickup games there almost daily.

Late in his life, Gilliam changed the spelling of his first name to Armen because he was tired of it being mispronounced. Regardless of the spelling, his name will always be synonymous with one of the great eras in UNLV basketball history.


Damn, I remember this guy.

Rest in Peace.

07-06-2011, 04:05 PM
Really sad to hear this. He was super young too. I'm sure we'll hear he had a heart condition of some sort...
I have a hard time believing he ate extremely poorly.

07-06-2011, 04:08 PM

he was a pretty good player too. Decent stats.

07-06-2011, 04:22 PM
THE HAMMER!!!!!!! One of my favorite Nets ever, and one of the most under appreciated Nets ever.

His not being re-signed after his great '96 season was one of the clear signs that Nets had continued the moronic management practices they had been exercising since the Nets entered the NBA.

07-06-2011, 04:22 PM
pity, he was a good player, specially given his meh draft class( save for some players)

05-02-2012, 10:29 PM
RIP. He was a work horse. The game could use more guys like him.

05-02-2012, 11:01 PM
why was this bumped?

05-02-2012, 11:23 PM
why was this bumped?

a weird spammer was bumping a bunch of death threads

05-03-2012, 11:06 AM
Crossover of death i presume....

jk, rip Gilliam