How great thou Artis.
That was the theme Monday when the Rotary Club of Jacksonville honored one of its own, Artis Gilmore.
Gilmore played center on the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team that made it all the way to the 1970 NCAA Division I championship game, where the Dolphins lost to UCLA 80-69, one of only two losses in the season.
“JU remains the smallest school ever to make the Final Four and play for the national championship,” said Madison Shelly, JU senior director of major gifts and the moderator of Monday’s program.
JU also was the first team from Florida to play in the championship game, he said.
“Artis helped put the university – and the city – on the map,” Shelly said.
Gilmore grew up and learned the game in Chipley. While attending Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., he was discovered by JU by accident, said Shelly.
JU’s coaching staff had expressed interest in another Gardner-Webb player who was invited to visit the campus.
“He asked if he could bring his 7-foot-2 friend,” Shelly said.
Joe Williams, JU head basketball coach, recruited Gilmore and another 7-footer, Pembrook Burroughs, in the summer of 1969, and then JU was on the way to its Cinderella season.
One of Gilmore’s teammates, Rod McIntyre, recalled when Gilmore and Burroughs joined the team.
“We recognized very quickly we would be a significant team,” he said.
The new arrivals also meant a change in role for McIntyre, who had been up to that time the team’s center.
“Coach Williams pulled me aside and told me I wasn’t going to play center, he was going to put me at forward,” McIntyre said. “I said that was good because I like to shoot. He said no, that my job was to throw the ball to Artis.”
After college, Gilmore played in the American Basketball Association and later in the National Basketball Association when the leagues merged.
He was inducted in 2011 into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Gilmore was an 11-time All-Star, ABA Rookie of the Year and MVP and remains the NBA career leader in field goal percentage.
His career stats also remain in the NBA top 10 in rebounds, blocked shots, games played and minutes played.
When he retired from basketball, Gilmore returned to Jacksonville and today serves as the city’s ambassador of sports, entertainment and physical fitness.
JU Chancellor Emeritus Francis Bartlett Kinne, who was dean of JU’s College of Fine Arts when Gilmore was playing basketball at the university, said Gilmore has always maintained a mission to help students, not only at JU but throughout the community.
“I doubt there’s a school in this town that Artis hasn’t helped,” said Kinne.
Monday marked the second time Gilmore has had his own day proclaimed in Jacksonville. Oct. 8, 2013, was designated “Artis Gilmore Day” by Mayor Alvin Brown. As part of the ceremony, Gilmore’s No. 53 jersey was retired and made a permanent display inside Veterans Memorial Arena.
After the tributes, Gilmore went to the podium and thanked his fellow Rotarians for their service and accomplishments.
“You make this a better community for all of us. I am so honored and privileged to have all of you as associates and friends,” he said. “Thank you so much for acknowledging me.”