Walt Bellamy's numbers are indisputable. He averaged 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds over a career that lasted 13 seasons and one game of a 14th. He is one of only seven players to score more than 20,000 points and grab more than 14,000 rebounds, a group that includes Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Moses Malone and Karl Malone. He played in four All-Star Games and he was the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1962.
One thing that followed Bellamy around that may play a part in him having a less than a legendary legacy was the thought that he was not dedicated. "Walt wasn't a highly motivated player, night in and night out," says Bellamy's first NBA coach, Bob Leonard. "He'd have some great games and then he'd have one where he didn't show up. But he was an excellent player."
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. He came to the NBA after being named a second-team All-American at Indiana University as the first player selected in the 1961 draft by the Chicago Packers (Washington franchise) and he burst onto the pro scene.
He averaged what turned out to be a career-high 31.6 points and 19 rebounds for the Packers, hitting 52 percent of his field goals. Only Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor averaged more points that season. Bellamy also had 23 points and 17 rebounds in 29 minutes in his first All-Star Game.
Also, 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 first trade, between Baltimore (where the Chicago franchise moved) and New York on Nov. 2, 1965, was a blockbuster. The Knicks gave up Johnny Green, John Egan, Jim Barnes and cash for the center they figured would allow them to compete with Boston and Philadelphia. Barely more than three years later, however, the Knicks traded him and Howard Komives to Detroit for Dave DeBusschere in a move that eventually helped bring two NBA championships to New York. The Pistons, in turn, dealt Bellamy to Atlanta the next season for future considerations as part of a three-way trade.
Bellamy averaged just 11.6 points that season, but he rallied to average 14.7 points for the Hawks in 1971, 18.6 in '72 and 16.1 in '73. Each season, the Hawks made the playoffs. He had one more solid season, averaging 13.1 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Hawks in 1973-74. He played one game for the expansion franchise in New Orleans the following season, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds in 14 minutes, but was waived at the age of 35 after one game.
However, upon his departure from the NBA, there was no tolling at the time for "Bells," as the call to the Hall of Fame wouldn't come for 18 years. But he has one of the most productive résumés the game has ever seen. Bellamy played in 1,043 of 1,055 games (98 percent) during his 14-year pro career and compiled huge statistical numbers. When he retired in 1974, Bellamy was sixth all-time in scoring (20,941 points, 20.1 ppg) and third all-time in rebounding (14,241 rebounds, 13.1 rpg). His .516 shooting percentage, largely based on dominating, yet agile moves in the paint, was third best in league annals.
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