“Artis had such an amazing instinct,” Vance said. “He would go up and catch shots. I’ve seen some do it some, but he would do it on a regular basis.”
Strangely, old Oklahoma City University great Hub Reed, who played seven years in the NBA, told me the same thing about Russell just last weekend. You don’t see that much anymore. Not even from Ibaka.
“Artis had a 32-inch waist and 27-inch thighs and never lifted a weight,” Vance said. “Pretty remarkable talent.”
The ABA was looking for any public relations advantage. The Utah Stars installed steals as a box-score stat. The ABA was the first to use a 3-point line. In many ways, the threadbare league was ahead of its time.
“We promoted the red, white and blue basketball a little bit, but not much,” Vance said. “When (Red) Auerbach said it belonged on the nose of a seal, we didn’t promote it much.
“It was a great time. We were second best and we tried harder. The old Avis rental car thing. A lot of passion. We were kind of knocking at their shins. ‘Hey, recognize us.’ We were a little more aggressive. At the time, the NBA was a little more passive.”
Vance sensed the opportunity to market Gilmore, and he became an ABA star. Then when the leagues merged — the Colonels didn’t make the cut — Gilmore became an NBA star. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Last week, Vance was honored at the March of Dimes Headliner of the Year banquet. Thunder television voice Brian Davis emceed the event.
“I almost told Brian, ‘tell Serge he owes me one,’” Vance said.
They’ve never met, the man who popularized the block shot stat and the current Thunder star who basks in that wake.
“He seems like a totally focused, all-business kind of guy as far as his craft,” Vance said. “And he has that same kind of skill set … Artis, I haven’t seen anybody like him until Serge came along. Somebody that could be a threat all the time.”
We certainly know how prolific of a shot blocker is Ibaka. Down to the very last block. Someone along the way would have figured out to chart them with precision. But someone did. The horseman, David Vance.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.