Obituary: Walt Bellamy / Hall of Fame NBA center of 1960s, '70s

July 24, 1939 - Nov. 2, 2013


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Walt Bellamy, the Hall of Fame center who was among the leading National Basketball Association scorers and rebounders of his time but who was remembered as well for being traded away by the New York Knicks for Dave DeBusschere in a final step toward their first championship season, died Saturday. He was 74.

His death was announced by the Atlanta Hawks, for whom he played in the early 1970s. They did not list a cause but said that Mr. Bellamy, who lived in the Atlanta area, had attended their season home-opener Friday night.

Mr. Bellamy was the NBA's rookie of the year in 1962, playing for the expansion Chicago Packers, who selected him as the first choice in the draft after he played on a gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team and was named an all-American at Indiana University.

Listed at 6 feet 11 inches and 225 pounds, Mr. Bellamy was agile playing inside, possessed an outstanding shooting touch and battled off the boards against some of the greatest centers.

He averaged 31.6 points and 19 rebounds a game as a rookie and he was an All-Star for each of his first four NBA seasons, but he was overshadowed in his 14-year NBA career by Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Mr. Bellamy had nearly 21,000 points when he retired, and he was among the most durable players the league had ever seen. But he had to wait until 1993 to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. He had never played on an NBA championship team, had been measured alongside the brilliant centers of the 1960s and '70s, and had a reputation for inconsistent play.

When he was finally selected for the Hall, Mr. Bellamy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there were times when his teams "were not as successful as we would've liked" but "I would say of Walt Bellamy that he played with mental tenacity as well as physical tenacity."

The Knicks obtained Mr. Bellamy in a trade with the Baltimore Bullets, the successor franchise to the Chicago Packers (later named the Zephyrs) early in the 1965-66 season, hoping that they had now had an outstanding center to go up against Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Russell.

Mr. Bellamy gave the Knicks strong rebounding in a lineup featuring Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Dick Barnett. But Mr. Reed was moved from center to forward, where he was less comfortable, to make room for Mr. Bellamy, and the Knicks still did not have a true power forward.

They traded Mr. Bellamy and guard Howard Komives to the Detroit Pistons midway through the 1968-69 season for Mr. DeBusschere, a rugged and unselfish forward with outstanding court savvy.

That deal set the stage for the Knicks' championship teams in 1970 and then in 1973, with Jerry Lucas and Earl Monroe having been added. By then, Mr. Bellamy, known as Bells, was playing for the Hawks, whose fans greeted him with cowbells but saw their talented teams fall short of a league title.

Walter Jones Bellamy was born on July 24, 1939, in New Bern, N.C. After two seasons at Indiana under the future Hall of Fame coach Branch McCracken, he was named to the 1960 Olympic team, an all-amateur squad that also included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Mr. Lucas.

"This was the authentic dream team," Mr. Bellamy once said, reflecting on the 1992 U.S. Olympic squad, loaded with pros and acclaimed with that designation.

Mr. Bellamy went on to score 20,941 points, averaging 20.1 points a game, and had 14,241 rebounds, for 13.7 a game, playing for Chicago, Baltimore, the Knicks, the Pistons, the Hawks and, for one final game, with the New Orleans Jazz.

After leaving basketball, Mr. Bellamy was active with the NAACP, Urban League and YMCA in the Atlanta area.

Mr. Bellamy had a terrific start as an NBA rookie, but then came a matchup against Mr. Chamberlain in November 1961 in Chicago. As related by Gary M. Pomerantz in "Wilt, 1962," Mr. Bellamy sought to avert any wrath Mr. Chamberlain had in mind in order to put a rookie in his place.

Mr. Chamberlain blocked nine shots that Mr. Bellamy attempted from inside the free-throw line. When the second half began, Mr. Chamberlain told Mr. Bellamy, "OK, Walter, now you can play."


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