Former Phoenix Sun Armen Gilliam died after suffering a heart attack Tuesday night while playing basketball in Pittsburgh.
Gilliam was 47.
The forward averaged 13.7 points and 6.9 boards for his career, including 14.7 and 7.2 during his two and a half seasons in Phoenix before being traded for Kurt Rambis.
“On behalf of the entire Phoenix Suns family, I’d like to express our sadness at the news of the passing of Armen Gilliam and offer our condolences to his family,” Lon Babby said in a statement. “Armen will always have a place in Suns history as only the second No. 2 overall pick for the franchise, but the rugged, tough enforcer known as ‘The Hammer’ on the court will be remembered by his former teammates and our fans for his easy-going nature off the court.”
The forward was picked by the Suns second overall in the 1987 NBA Draft, just after David Robinson and before Scottie Pippen, Kevin Johnson and Reggie Miller. Aside from Neal Walk, the No. 2 pick in the 1969 draft, he’s the highest-selected player in Suns history.
“Although some would say that he never accomplished what he might have been able to accomplish in terms of potential, Armen gave you what he had,” former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo told Suns.com. “It was as simple as that. Maybe he didn’t live up to other people’s expectations, but he was comfortable with his game and what he was able to do in the way of his contribution.
“His time with us was a good time and again, it’s always sad to see a young person go before you would expect. There was more than one side to Armen Gilliam than what you saw on the court, and that’s what made him a special person. That’s what made him unique.”
Suns.com tracked down a handful of former Suns players and personnel from Gilliam’s playing days in Phoenix, and their thoughts are must-read material.
Former teammate Jeff Hornacek said that “he was consistent. He gave you the 16 points and eight rebounds every night. He was a great team player. He wasn’t a selfish guy and he was a great teammate to have in that respect.
“He was a guy that was so strong you would bump into him and kind of bounce off of him. He seemed to be that quiet person where you didn’t see a lot of emotion from him, but when he hit you knew it because he was such a strong guy.”
Former Suns trainer Joe Proski perhaps summed up Gilliam best by saying, “He more or less kept to himself, but he was an ass-kicker and he came to work every day. Plus, he was a good guy and he [was] always good to me.
“But to pass away at 47, that’s devastating.”