First of all, I’d like to just say that blogging allows us our silly and satirical moments, but we also cover serious topics and striking that balance is always a tough thing to do. As I’m about to profile the late Armen Gilliam, his sudden passing this past July is still somewhat fresh in our minds and I feel like I can speak for most of Nets nation when I say how saddened we were to hear that news.
Now, let’s talk about the career of the man known as “The Hammer”.
I don’t remember much from the first few trips to what was then known as the Meadowlands to see Nets games, but one of my only memories were those of Gilliam scoring a basket and the PA announcer screaming “Hammertime!” This usually thrilled me because at that stage of my life there wasn’t anything more important to me than Darkwing Duck and indeed M.C. Hammer, so finding out there was a player associated with Hammertime gave Gilliam instant credibility.
I didn’t know anything about basketball and don’t remember much about the actual games, but I do remember that “Hammertime” was said often; Gilliam scored a lot. From that, I surmised that he must be in fact a very important player for New Jersey and maybe even the best.
It wasn’t until Al Gore invented the Internet — more specifically, until Al Gore invented Basketball-Reference — that I was able to go back and actually confirm the fact that yes, through 1993 to 1996, The Hammer was the Nets heart and soul.
Gilliam was a 6’9″, athletic forward at UNLV, and his combination of size and strength let him dominate most nights in college, leading the Phoenix Suns to select him with the #2 pick in the 1987 NBA draft. When the Nets eventually signed him as a free agent, he first played behind Derrick Coleman at power forward, but when Coleman moved on after the 1994-95 season, Gilliam slotted into the starting role.
The result was simple yet staggering: at 31 years old, Gilliam enjoyed his finest season as an NBA player. Playing in 78 games, he scored 18.3 ppg and pulled in 9.1 rebounds per game, and while the Nets as a team were not playing great basketball that season (30-52), Gilliam was putting up the type of numbers most expected he would when he left UNLV.
Here is a clip of “The Hammer” (at the time with the 76ers) that shows his mix of ferocity, power, and a little of how earned his nickname.