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It has been a few weeks since I have talked to The Flock, but there are certain times when there is a need to share a collective hug, whether in celebration or despair. And this occasion certainly falls into the latter, as one of my favorite players, Armen Gilliam, suffered a fatal heart attack while playing pickup hoops earlier this week in Pittsburgh. He was just 47.
Over the course of the past 16 years, I have come across a number of different individuals who have donned the Nets uniform…all shapes and sizes, various egos and personalities, mostly nice guys…and some who remember you when they see you five or 10 years later. Armen was one of those guys, a very simple man who treated everyone as an equal…and who, if I ever did write that book one day, would certainly have a number of pages, if not a chapter, devoted to my time with him as a Net.
If you look up low maintenance in the dictionary, a picture of Armen would certainly be alongside the definition. When traveling on a West Coast trip, Armen would bring just a small duffle bag…no suits, no garment bag, no heavy lifting. Not for the spiritual man who played his college ball in Sin City. Who spent hours on the road watching Biblical movies.
In the locker room, Armen bunked next to Jayson Williams. The irreverent and the Reverend. Use your imaginations, because since this is a family show, I can't go into details. Let's just say there was never a better straight man than #43. It was the basketball version of 'Sanford and Son'.
Before every game…I mean every game…at the same time on the clock…think two minutes…Armen would go back into the locker room…the floor could be on fire, and Armen would go back into the locker room at the same time every game. Without fail.
And then there was his name. Was it Ar-mon…or Ar-min…like is it De-ron…or Dar-ryn. It was Armin…so after way too much confusion…Armen did the prudent thing…he just changed the spelling. Get rid of the o and sub the e. Problem solved.
The Butch Beard Nets were an interesting cast of characters…Jayson, Yinka, Mahorn, Benoit, Sleepy, P.J.,… the list goes on. As do the stories, the moments, on the court, off the court, in the hotels, on the team bus. They were my first introduction into the life of the NBA. And your first always leaves a lasting impression. Armen was always a gentlemen, always a class act, always a guy who treated everyone as an equal. Armen may have changed the spelling of his name, but never changed who he was. He was 'The Hammer'. May he rest in peace.
Posted by Gary Sussman on July 6, 2011 at 3:19 p.m., ET