Nancy Reagan

The death of Nancy Reagan made me think of ... Armen Gilliam.

Yes, Armen Gilliam, the rugged power forward for UNLV in the mid-80s. The anchor of Jerry Tarkanian's second Final Four team. The Hammer.

Armen Gilliam

Warped? Probably. But here is how the dots connect:

In 1987, the Phoenix Suns selected Gilliam with the second overall pick in the NBA draft.

Two points of context:
-- The second overall pick in 1986 was Len Bias, who died two days after the draft from a cocaine overdose.
-- Late in the 1987 season, three Suns players and two former players were indicted by an Arizona grand jury investigating a drug trafficking operation.

After David Stern made the announcement of the Suns' selection, Gilliam walked on stage at the old Felt Forum, adjacent to Madison Square Garden. The savvy New York crowd began chanting at Gilliam the phrase that was the cornerstone to Reagan's anti-drug crusade as first lady: "Just say no! Just say no!"

It was a phrase repeated again Sunday in news reports of Reagan's passing from heart failure at 94, and when I heard it, that moment at the '87 draft immediately popped into my mind.

***

Bonus trivia: For most of his career, which included 13 NBA seasons, Gilliam was known as Armon Gilliam. But he later changed it to Armen because it was constantly being mispronounced. He died in 2011 after suffering a heart attack while playing a pickup game in Pennsylvania.

Bonus trivia II: The Suns have never had the first overall pick in the NBA draft, but they picked second twice. In 1969, they lost a coin flip for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and ended up with Neal Walk. In 1987, they finished second in the lottery and took Gilliam -- after the Spurs got David Robinson.

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