Walt Bellamy (left) averaged 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds over 14 NBA seasons. (Dick Raphael/Getty Images)
Hall of Fame center Walt Bellamy, who won an Olympics gold medal and was selected to four NBA All-Star Games during the 1960s, died Saturday. He was 74.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1961 draft, Bellamy played 14 seasons in the NBA with the Chicago Packers, Baltimore Bullets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and the New Orleans Jazz. He retired in 1975 with career averages of 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds after doing battle in the paint with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
Mark Kram wrote in a 1965 Sports Illustrated article that Bellamy was "remarkably mobile and strong enough to give any team he played for an even chance against Philadelphia and Boston" and that he "could overpower the smaller or less aggressive pivotmen he faced."
After spending three seasons at Indiana, where he was an All-American, and representing USA Basketball at the 1960 Olympics, Bellamy averaged 31.6 points and 19 rebounds for the Packers in 1961-62, earning the 1962 Rookie of the Year award and earning selection to the 1962 All-Star Game. "Bells" would go on to make the All-Star Game in each of the next three seasons and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
Frank Deford wrote in a 1970 Sports Illustrated article that Russell considered Bellamy, at his finest, one of his toughest rivals.
Bill Russell has often said that some games that Bellamy played against him were the best any man ever showed him, but Bellamy's inconsistency is implicit in that statement. His nadir was reached at Detroit, where he was literally not playing a full minute at the end of his stay, but since joining Atlanta he has performed with a vengeance. Not only has he given the Hawks what they hoped for—board strength and offense in the middle—but his passing off the high post has been a real bonus, and he has been scrambling and diving for loose balls like a rookie.
NBA.com profiled Bellamy, noting that he is "forgotton by some as one of the game's dominant big men" and adding these details.
Bellamy, a native of New Bern, N.C., had a style of play that may have reflected his laid-back southern nature similar to a fellow native Tar Heel and jazz musician, John Coltrane.
While with Chicago, Bellamy was part of the first team in the NBA to start five black players. And later in his career, because of a trade from New York to Detroit he played a league record 88 games.
He was traded more because he was such a highly coveted player than anything else. He wore seven different NBA uniforms, yet earned the respect of such contemporaries as Bill Russell and Chamberlain. In all, he played for five franchises and was traded three times during his career. Despite being a wanted player, his value seemed to diminish with each trade and he always seemed stuck with rebuilding or expansion teams.
The Hawks announced Bellamy's passing in a statement Saturday.
“The Atlanta Hawks family is saddened to learn of the death of Walt Bellamy at the age of 74 earlier today," the statement read. "The Hawks and the National Basketball Association have lost a giant. As an Olympic gold medalist, the first overall pick in 1961, Rookie of the Year in 1962, a four-time All-Star and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, his on-court accomplishments were overwhelming. Off the court, he was equally impactful as a family man, leader in the community, mentor and friend to many.”
During his retirement, Bellamy spent years working for the NAACP in Atlanta