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July 29, 2017
Artis Gilmore is a ‘Florida Icon'

Photo: Jon M. Fletcher

Florida Icon

Artis Gilmore is a ‘Florida Icon'

Member, NBA Hall of Fame; special assistant to the president, Jacksonville University, Jacksonville; age 66

Art Levy | 4/27/2016

» Picking cotton, that was just an incredible process. You’d get up early in the morning, like around 3 o’clock, and you would go out and stand on the corner, and the trucks would come by and take you out to the fields. Most of the time, it was $2.50 for every 100 pounds. Most families could pick 300 or 400 pounds a day. I could get close to 100 pounds a day myself. I was about 12, 13, 14 years old and I was already pretty tall, so to get low enough to pick the cotton I had to get down on my knees.

» Growing up in Chipley, the schools were segregated. The movie theaters were segregated. The public bathrooms, the toilets — you had men’s and women’s toilets and colored toilets. There were water fountains we were not allowed to drink from. You didn’t look a white man in the eye.

» The crowd cheering, that’s helpful and very nice, but it’s really about the competition between you and your opponent. That’s the focus. To compete at the highest level, you have to beat the guy in front of you.

» My dad was about 5-foot-8. My mother was 6-foot-2.

» Money was an issue for my family, absolutely. Just the basic things, we didn’t have. No electricity, for example. We used kerosene lamps. There were a number of days I remember getting up to go to school and there was no food in the house.

» When I talk to student-athletes, I stress the importance Of getting an education.

» Having the proper equipment, that was a problem, like having shoes to play basketball in. Even a pair of sneakers that probably cost a dollar and half, that wasn’t in the budget. In high school, I played in a pair of shoes that had a rubber strip across the top and flat bottoms. The sides would start ripping, and you’d put some cardboard in there, and you tried to play.

» I’m not bitter whatsoever.Being bitter is not healthy.

» My coach at Jacksonville University, Joe Williams, he had a tremendous influence on me. During my early years, my relationships with white people were none, just none — the environment I lived in was totally black. And then I went to Jacksonville and tried to make this transition, and I found it very difficult. But after meeting Joe, he was so personable, and he treated me so special. He opened me up and helped me develop my personality.

» I played 18 years of pro ball. Physically, I had a little bit of a knee surgery and a broken orbital bone — I caught an elbow in the eye — but for the most part I held up pretty well.

» Dan Issel. Bob Lanier. Wes Unseld. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bill Walton when he was healthy. They were all a challenge to play against.

» My father was not able to communicate with his kids and share with us his experiences as a youth growing up, but I try even now to share with my kids to make sure they understand the history of what I experienced.

» Every day, I try to enjoy my life. I have my health. Every day when I go to work, I have a smile on my face. Every day.

» I returned to Jacksonville after basketball because of the success I had here as a collegiate athlete. There were business opportunities, as well, but I love Jacksonville. It’s a great place to live and raise a family. So much has changed here, and the city continues to grow.

» I’d love to see racism be eliminated from the face of the earth, but realistically that’s not going to happen.

» My heart is here at Jacksonville University.

» I’m 7-foot-2, and that can be difficult. The airlines, I guess because of cutbacks, the space on the planes is so limited. The leg space is practically zero. Even now if you go to a sporting event, the space is limited. As far as clothes, it has always been challenging. There’s no store really where I can walk in and buy something that fits. I wear size 18 shoes. There’s a place in Atlanta, though — it’s called Friedman’s Shoes — for all the guys with big feet. I’ll go there and buy shoes.

» I don’t get into politics — other than voting.

» When I played, I was considered media-shy. I guess I was shy, but really I was just uncomfortable.

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