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50 for 50, Number 12: Artis Gilmore

The A-Train is often forgotten when discussing the best big men ever, but he was an absolute force throughout his career, including his stint in San Antonio.

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photo by NBA Photo Library/NBAE via Getty Images

This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and their consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made the franchise one of the most successful of all time. As we look back on the Silver & Black, we recognize the top 50 players in Spurs history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.

12 - Artis Gilmore

Portland Trailblazers vs. San Antonio Spurs Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs have been blessed with some of the best big men in basketball history. In the last 30 years, fans have enjoyed watching all-time greats like David Robinson and Tim Duncan as well as future Hall-of-Famers like Pau Gasol and, potentially, LaMarcus Aldridge patrolling the paint.

Someone who should be on that list but is sometimes left out is the great Artis Gilmore. The Hall-of-Famer made All-ABA or All-NBA teams in 11 of his 17 years as a pro, won an ABA Championship and an ABA MVP award, and ranks fifth all-time in total rebounds and fourth in total blocks in ABA/NBA history. The A-Train was a force in the paint for his entire run, leading the league in field goal percentage several times and cracking the top 10 in Spurs franchise history in rebounds and blocks despite only spending five seasons in San Antonio. His numbers put him in rarefied company, but he’s somehow not as well-known as his peers, even to Spurs fans.

There are many reasons for Gilmore’s relatively low profile. The 7’2” behemoth was often chastised for being quiet and not as passionate about dominating as some of his contemporaries despite having overwhelming physical advantages over opponents. As for Spurs fans, the fact that he joined the franchise at the tail end of his career and was part of some early 80s teams that simply couldn’t get over the hump probably hurts his visibility. He’s also inevitably being compared to two of the few big men who were actually significantly better than him in Duncan and Robinson. But make no mistake: despite only spending a few years in the Alamo City, Gilmore was one of the finest talents the franchise has ever seen. His averages of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks on 62 percent shooting with the Spurs make that very clear.

It’s easy and somewhat understandable to overlook most of the players from those late 70s to early 80s Spurs teams that simply can’t compete in terms of accomplishments with the ones from the late 90s and forward. But looking back gives us a chance to truly recognize and be awed by the amount of talent that has passed through San Antonio over the decades. When Artis Gilmore is the third-best big man in your franchise’s history, you have no choice but to admit that you have been blessed as a fan.

Next up: the biggest free agent signing in franchise history?

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