LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Runnin’ Rebel Hall of Famer Armon “The Hammer” Gilliam passed away unexpectedly Tuesday night. According to reports, Gilliam, 47, was playing basketball at a fitness center in Bridgeville, Pa., when he collapsed.
“The Runnin’ Rebel family lost a true legend,” UNLV head coach Dave Rice said. “As great a player as Armon was, he was even a better person. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Gilliam family.”
Gilliam had his No. 35 UNLV men’s basketball jersey retired during a halftime ceremony at the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 6, 2007, becoming the eighth player to have his jersey retired by the program. He played at UNLV from 1984-87 and was a key member of UNLV’s second NCAA Final Four team in 1987. That team finished the season with a 37-2 overall record and was 18-0 in Big West Conference play.
“He was one of the greatest Rebels ever and one of the best players we have ever had,” said Jerry Tarkanian, head coach from 1973-92. “In my ratings, I had Larry Johnson No. 1 and Armon No. 2. He was such a great person. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody. He was such a gentle person and such a caring guy. I am all shook up over it. I think the world of him and am just really shocked.”
An All-America selection in 1987, Gilliam is seventh on the all-time UNLV career list in scoring with 1,855 points. The 1987 Big West Conference Player of the Year, he was also named first team all-conference in 1987 and second team in 1986. He holds the UNLV record for most points in a season with 903 in 1986-87 and most field goals made in a season with 359 that same year.
Gilliam was inducted into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.
“Like most people, I am in shock,” said Brad Rothermel, who was UNLV’s athletics director during the time that Gilliam starred as a Runnin’ Rebel and now serves as a special advisor to the athletics director. “Certainly, our wishes go out to his family. He was one of those student-athletes that never caused a problem. He was an excellent player for us and in recent years he was always a regular that would come back for the Legends games at the beginning of each season. Not only would he play, but he would dominate those games. We will really miss him.”
Gilliam is also in the top 10 in program history in the following categories: fourth in career field goal percentage with .580, fifth in seasonal rebounding with 363 in 1986-87, fifth in most free throws made in a season with 185, fifth in career free throws made with 429, sixth in career rebounding with 890, sixth in seasonal scoring average with 23.2 ppg in 1986-87, sixth in career field goals made with 716, eighth in seasonal field goal percentage with .621 in 1984-85 and 10th in seasonal field goal percentage with .600 in 1986-87.
Gilliam was selected in the 1987 NBA Draft with the second overall pick by the Phoenix Suns. He became the first Runnin’ Rebel to be picked in the top four spots in the NBA Draft. He played in the league for 13 seasons with six teams. For his career he averaged 13.7 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and shot 48.9 percent from the field. He appeared in 929 games during his NBA career.