Kevin Gamble grew up in Illinois' capital city, he living in the John Hay public-housing projects, where his single mother Rose Mary Gamble sacrificed so her children could aspire to higher goals and unlimited horizons. Gamble entered Springfield's Lanphier High just hoping to make the team; but by his senior season, Gamble was the star, leading the Lions to the 1983 Illinois Class AA State Basketball Championship. Gamble scored 67 points in those four tournament games, which culminated with a 57-53 win over Peoria High School. Lanphier finished the ’83 season 30-3, with Gamble was the only Lanphier player selected to the All-Tournament team.
While few questioned Gamble's ability at the high school level, many college recruiters wondered whether he possessed legitimate Division I basketball potential. Undeterred, Gamble enrolled at Lincoln Land Community College in Illinois, where he played for two seasons under the guidance and tutelage of head coach Alan Pickering. He understood that his game needed work, especially on the defensive end of the court, and that Pickering had a reputation for tough, hard-nosed defense. For his part, Pickering understood that Gamble’s game was only in need of refinement, and that the right amount of focus would put him on solid footing at the next level.
After two seasons in Lincoln’s sage coach, Gamble transferred to the University of Iowa. He was part of the 1985 recruiting class at The University of Iowa which included B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble, Les Jepsen and Ed Horton. All five recruits went on to play in the National Basketball Association. Horton and Gamble played together at Lanphier High School.
Then-coach George Raveling had a persistent lack of faith in Gamble as a defender, which kept the junior college transfer pinned to the bench for much of the season. Gamble questioned his coach for playing him at power forward but kept it largely to himself; he was young, yet mature enough to understand that such grousing would only make the situation worse. And then, as if by divine intervention, Raveling bolted the Iowa program to take the head coaching job at USC. On April 7, 1986, Iowa named Tom Davis as its new head coach. A native of Ridgeway, Wisconsin, the 46-year-old Davis had coached at high schools in Wisconsin and Illinois from 1960-1966, and was an assistant coach at American University for two years before becoming the head coach at Lafayette.
Davis’ arrival breathed new life into Gamble’s collegiate career. Given a clean slate, the Springfield product became a key starter for the Hawkeyes, as the team raced to a 17-0 start and the Number 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll. Gamble hit the winning shot against the University of Oklahoma to send the Hawkeyes to the final eight where they faced The University of Nevada Las Vegas. Iowa finished 30-5 before falling in the NCAA Regional Finals.
Gamble was selected with the 17th pick of the 3rd round (63rd overall) by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1987 NBA Draft. Injuries gave Gamble an opportunity to show his stuff, but, after only nine games, players such as veteran John Paxson and first round pick Ronnie Murphy were working their way back into the equation. He was cut to make room for veteran backcourt talent.
Gamble then headed to the Continental Basketball Association for the Quad City Thunder, where he averaged 21.1 ppg with the Quad City Thunder in 1988. It was followed by an invitation to the Detroit Pistons’ rookie camp the following summer, followed by a training camp tryout with the Milwaukee Bucks later that fall. Neither the Pistons nor the Bucks felt that Gamble fit.
Gamble then played in the Philippines for a month, he teamed with Billy Ray Bates in the 1988 PBA Reinforced Conference for Anejo Rum. In the 4 games Kevin Gamble played with Anejo, he averaged near 50 ppg. But it was the out of shape Billy Ray Bates who couldn't keep up, scoring less than 20 ppg. With a losing record, Anejo management made the quick change of sending Bates and Gamble home.
Gamble returned to the Quad City Thunder and scored 27.8 ppg in a dominating, 12-game stint with Quad Cities. Scouts from several NBA teams took notice, including the Boston Celtics, a team loaded with All-Star talent and the one Gamble least expected to hear from.
In early 1989, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was injured. Kevin Gamble was called up from the CBA and was signed the remainder of the season on 15 December 1988. Few expected him to last through the season, especially on a team populated with hall-of-fame talent such as Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, as well as players such as Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw. Gamble played sparingly the first few months after signing his contract (logging 17 DNPs), and it looked like the Celtics would expose him to Orlando and Minnesota in the expansion draft at season’s end. That all changed with a strong, seven minute performance in a road win over Philadelphia. His teammates, his play over the final six games of the regular season impressed head coach Jimmy Rodgers. With starter Dennis Johnson out during that span, Rodgers trusted Gamble to step in and contribute. With Johnson back for the playoffs, Rodgers was able to bring the battle-tested Gamble off of the bench. Gamble played well until going down with a groin injury, but the Celtics were swept in the first round by Dennis Rodman and the Bad Boys of Detroit.
Gamble played in 71 games the following season, averaging 5.1 points in 13.9 minutes-per-game.
After seeing spot duty for two seasons he assumed a major role with Boston in 1990-91. Gamble played in every game, including 76 starts, and averaged 15.6 points (fourth on the team, behind Bird, Lewis and McHale) in 33 minutes per game and helped the Celtics to a 56-26 record and a return to first place in the Atlantic Division. His 58.7% shooting percentage was third-best in the NBA, an astonishing feat for a 6'5" player. He did this by accurate and selective shooting from midrange. He placed second to Scott Skiles of Orlando in the voting for the Most Improved Player award. This is the closest finish in the history of the award since 1990-91 with a winning margin of four votes. Gamble's minutes were cut dramatically in the playoffs and he averaged just 6 points per game against the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons.
Gamble played in all 82 games the next season, but the Celtics were eliminated by the Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs. Gamble played seven seasons with the Celtics from 1988 through 1994, averaging double figures during four of those seasons. For three consecutive seasons, from 1990-1993, Gamble played in all 82 games. He came off of the bench while splitting time with the Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings in his last three seasons in the NBA.
For his NBA career, Gamble averaged 9.5 pts on 50.2% shooting connecting with 36% of three point attempts and making 81% of free throws. He also averaged 2.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 22.4 minutes per game for 649 games. He made $12M dollars throughout his career.
Gamble was 6’5” with a quick first step and decent range. He was strong enough to compete beneath the basket, yet fast enough to play the wing.
Currently, Gamble resides in Springfield with his wife, Alesha, their son Kevin, Jr., and their daughter Averi, five. He owns an Athlete's Foot store.
After retiring from the NBA, Gamble returned to his hometown of Springfield, Ill., where he formed his own real estate development company, PitGam Enterprises, Inc., in 1999 with Mike Pittman, another former local athlete. PitGam is heavily involved in the development of Springfield's east side community.
In 2002, Gamble was named the men's basketball coach at the University of Illinois at Springfield in the American Midwest Conference (NAIA). Gamble is the first head coach of the Prairie Stars in the college's history as they just started up their basketball program. The 2006-07 season saw the Prairie Stars capture their first American Midwest Conference (AMC) regular season title outright, win their second consecutive AMC Tournament and advance to the second round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Tournament. Gamble's team went 11-1 in conference play and 23-9 overall and his continued success earned Gamble his second American Midwest Conference Coach of the Year honor.