The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 83 | Herm Gilliam
Games Played with Blazers: 80 Regular Season, 18 Postseason
*PTS: 9.3 | REB: 2.5 | AST: 2.1 | FG%: 43.8
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: September 1976, acquired from the Seattle Supersonics for cash
Departed Club: October 1977, waived
Place in History: Theoretically it should be hard for anybody who played for only one season with the Trail Blazers to crack a Top 100 list, even in the lower reaches. Blazers fans owe Herm Gilliam, though.
Several members of the 1976-77 championship team rank above Gilliam in contributions and importance. Images from the legendary NBA Finals series versus Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76’ers are burned in the minds of the Blazers faithful; few, if any, include Herm. But the Blazers didn’t reach that series without facing daunting challenges, none more so than their Western Conference Finals matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was billed as a matchup between two dominant centers: Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was also a series Portland was expected to lose.
The Blazers surprised L.A. by winning Game 1 in the Great Western Forum but were struggling to follow up in Game 2. The Lakers led 91-84 in the fourth when Gilliam hit three consecutive shots to pull Portland back from the brink. He’d later hit the go-ahead bucket as well, finishing the fourth period with 14 points, finishing the game with 24 on 12-18 shooting. In an era before the three-point shot, that was remarkable. Given the circumstances and the opponent (Kareem scored 40 that night), it was unbelievable. A little-known reserve cemented Portland’s chances to come out of the West by contributing to the toughest win of a four-game sweep.
That Gilliam’s style conflicted somewhat with Head Coach Jack Ramsay’s disciplined approach made the moment all the more sweet. Ramsay would later remember the game fondly, as would Herm’s contemporaries, who eulogized him upon his passing in 2005.
“Herm was way ahead of his time as a player,” [Purdue teammate Bill] Keller told Goldandblack.com earlier this week. “He was an athlete in a time when basketball was all about fundamentals. He could do things that few guys could do. Herm could fly, and that was pretty amazing for a guy that was just 6-feet-2. He really was our best player. That’s no slight on Rick [Mount] or anyone else, but his athletic ability and his quickness made him very, very special.”
For the special win in a special season, Herm Gilliam makes #83 on our list of Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Discuss your thoughts and memories of Gilliam below, and check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1.