Am I really getting that old that the basketball legends that I remember watching as a shortie are already leaving us? Not at all. It's just that some of these cats are clearly going much too young. First Lorenzo Charles and now Armen.
Former UNLV Runnin' Rebles basketball star AND pro baller Armen Gilliam passed away Tuesday night while playing a game of pick-up basketball. Cause of death is yet to be determined. He was only 47-years-old.
I thought for sure that Gilliam was a member of the UNLV team that won the school's sole championship in 1990. Then conversely a member of the same squad that got screwed out of their repeat the following year. Turns out he wasn't. He was actually there from 1983 - 1987. That was still during the Runnin' Rebels golden years under Coach Jerry Tarkanian. Proven by the fact that the guys were 93-11 during Armen's three years there.
There are a couple of things that I will always remember Gilliam for. The first was that he had the nickname "Hammer". Get it? Armen "Hammer"? I always thought that was pretty clever. Especially since it was appropriate given the bruising style with which he played. He was one of those cats who took the nickname and ran with it to make sure that he lived up to it while hooping.
The other was that Armen was a member of the UNLV squad who got to the Final Four in 1987. What's so significant about that accomplishment? That's the year they beat the Iowa Hawkeyes to get there. Back then, I was a Hawk fan because I hadn't yet decided where I was going to college. They had arguably one of the best teams in the nation with the likes of B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble and Gerry Wright just to mention a few. I clearly recall watching the game at a high school dance where they had it playing on a big screen for all of us guys who were more interested in the outcome than the janky dance. Needless to say, the Hawks lost. It was an epic battle though.
Gilliam did have a pretty decent pro career. No All-Star appearances but he did make the all-Rookie team in 1988. He put in a good solid 13 years in the League. Plus, his video version in one of the first NBA endorsed video games on Nintendo was pretty fun to play with. Honestly, the only reason I remember him on there is because he was on the same New Jersey Nets squad that featured Drazen Petrovic who ended up tragically dying in 1993 due to a car accident.
If I never see another news report about another sports legend dying before the age of 50 then it would be more than fine with me. About the only good thing to come out of this one is the fact that it appears Armen died doing something he loved the most. Still, it's a shame he had to leave so early.
Rest in peace, Hammer.