Joe Gilmartin, a longtime sports columnist for the Phoenix Gazette and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, died Tuesday. He was 88.
Gilmartin joined the Gazette, which was an afternoon paper in the Valley, in 1962 after working in Wichita, Kansas. He became sports editor of the paper in 1963 and was the paper’s main sports columnist until 1996.
Gilmartin was named Arizona Sportswriter of the year a record 16 times and retired from The Arizona Republic after the Gazette merged with the morning paper.
He was best known for his coverage of the Phoenix Suns. He wrote a book — “The Little Team That Could … And Darn Near Did” — about the 1975-76 Suns team that reached the NBA Finals and served as the Suns’ color analyst. He was named the first president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association in 1972, and, in 2014, was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the Curt Gowdy Award winner.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of Joe’s passing,” the Suns said in a statement. “A Hall of Fame writer, Joe knew the game as well as anyone, but he coupled that knowledge with the unique ability to report with his trademark humor, a trait that matched his lovable personality. Joe always greeted you with a smile and it’s his warm nature that will be missed more than anything. Our thoughts are with all of Joe’s family and friends.”
Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo said Gilmartin was “as good as anyone who ever came along.”
“I mean that,” said Colangelo, whose relationship with Gilmartin dated back to 1968 when Colangelo became the Suns’ general manager. “That’s the kind of respect I have for him. He was creative, he had style, he was very, very knowledgeable. He was more than fair. He could be trusted. The relationship I had with Joe all those years was one of friendship, trust and respect for the job he had to do. When there were times he had to take me to task I understood that.
“He was a throwback in terms of style, the writer he was and the kind of relationships he developed. … He was very unique.”
Gilmartin’s wit came out in his writing.
“I’ve run into a lot of newspaper men over the years and to me, of all the people I’ve worked with, he always stood out,” former Suns assistant coach Al Bianchi said. “I’ve always marveled at Joe because he understood the game so well and could write about it with his subtle touch of humor. So even when he’s killing you he still makes you laugh.”