In a Nets locker room filled with zany personalities, he was the voice of reason. When Rick Mahorn and Jayson Williams would take turns teasing Armen for his wardrobe or his Gumby haircut, Gilliam would smile and ignore them. When Derrick Coleman uttered his now infamous “Well whoop-dee-damn-do” line after Kenny Anderson blew off practice and headed for a strip club, Armen would roll his eyes at his young, immature teammates.
Armen Gilliam Rumors
Armen Gilliam wasn’t like most professional athletes I’ve covered. In the early 90’s you would often find him before games reading a book. He could talk politics, business and occasionally basketball, although I always felt the latter bored him to some degree. Armen didn’t want to be thought of as just a basketball player or, worse yet, a dumb jock. He certainly wasn’t dumb and he was more than just a well compensated NBA player. He was a thoughtful, sweet person.
Selfishness wasn’t Gilliam’s thing. When he left the NBA, he said he wanted to get involved in youth programs through which strong values could be taught. He later stressed education at his basketball camps. He thought about running for political office, but postponed it to spend time with his young sons, Jeremiah and Joshua. “Spirituality is the foundation of my life,” he said back then. “That is my focus. The older I get, the more I believe in it, the more committed I get, the more I walk in it. I consider myself a committed Christian at this point.”
A friend of his told me back then that Gilliam was “excited to be in Utah. He wanted to go there to win a title. It’s a perfect match.” She also said: “Armen is real. He is what he is — a devout Christian who treats people with respect, who doesn’t smoke, drink, or swear. The Jazz look for people who work hard and work together, not people with big egos. That’s Armen.” Gilliam, indeed, stood out as a unique mix of loud brutality on the court and quiet sensitivity off it. He was into diverse interests, from listening to the music of Duke Ellington and Count Bassie to playing the piano, the guitar and the saxophone to riding horses to playing chess. The Jazz acquired the veteran 6-foot-9. 250-pound forward to allow an aging Karl Malone to take a breather now and again, and to add some punch — “a physical presence,” as Kevin O’Connor said it — to their bench.
The former Jazz power forward collapsed and died on Tuesday night, doing what he loved to do — playing basketball. It happened during a pickup game at a local gym near his hometown of Pittsburgh. Gilliam didn’t spend a whole lot of time with the Jazz, arriving as a free agent on Jan. 7, 2000, and departing when his contract ran out at the end of that postseason. He played in 50 regular-season games, averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds, and 10 playoff games.
Gilliam is believed to have died of a heart attack suffered while playing pickup basketball, although the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office said the cause of death has not yet been determined pending an autopsy. “He was a really, really good guy,” said Jim Lynam, Gilliam’s coach for the first two seasons with the team and general manager for the last. “I was a fan. He was a really good player who wasn’t a very good athlete, so to speak. He was a little ahead of his time. He was a strapping guy. He could use his left hand as well as his right hand to score around the basket, and he could score the ball.”
Pittsburgh media reported that Gilliam was playing at a LA Fitness in suburban Pittsburgh on Tuesday night when he suffered an apparent heart attack and was rushed to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. “I know he was a guy who had his life in order,” said Suns broadcast analyst Eddie Johnson, who was acquired by Phoenix at the same time as Gilliam. “To die doing something to keep yourself in shape and that you’ve been doing your whole life is brutal. “He was an excellent teammate and a great person. He was a quiet guy who went about his business and a skilled offensive player. He loved the game. He had a tremendous smile. We joked that he was ‘The Chisel’ instead of ‘The Hammer’ because he had an easy-going nature. But on the basketball court, he had a very physical presence.”
Former Nets player Armen Gilliam died Tuesday night playing pickup basketball near his home in suburban Pittsburgh, WTAE Pittsburgh reported on its website. Gilliams was 47 Gilliam, nicknamed “The Hammer” for his rugged style of play, spent 13 seasons in the NBA, averaging 13.7 points and 6.9 rebounds for six teams, including the Nets. The Nets issued a statement today mourning Gilliam’s death.
Armen Gilliam, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bethel Park who was known as “The Hammer” for his physical style of basketball, died Wednesday night. He was 47. Police said Gilliam had a heart attack and collapsed while playing basketball at LA Fitness in Collier Township. He was rushed to St. Clair Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. In college, Gilliam starred on the No. 1-ranked UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team that won a record 38 games and went to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in 1987.