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Despite pain, rugged center Beaty always showed up

Former standout in ABA, NBA was a pest in the post for many

POSTED: Sep 1, 2016 9:37 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Zelmo Beaty Highlights

Here's a look back at Zelmo Beaty, former Utah Star and 2016 NBA Hall of Fame inductee.

Zelmo Beaty will be posthumously inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame on Sept. 9 in honor of 12 seasons in the NBA and ABA, a recognition that will undoubtedly trigger memories among those who knew him as a center who pushed himself through searing pain in his knees, a low-key leader willing to mentor others and a good guy who put the game first.

And the blood.

And the elbows.

Just the whole nasty streak.

That was the thing about Beaty. He was so pleasant that words like gentleman and dignity remained as people would describe him decades after retiring in 1975, yet a one-man gang fight in games if he felt an opponent got unnecessarily physical. Revenge would be coming and it would be coming with a fury.

So much about his legacy involves agony, distributed and endured. Beaty's knees were bad for much of his career, to where, Utah Stars teammate Charlie Williams recalled in "Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association": "I roomed with Zelmo and I never saw a guy whose knees hurt so much. He could barely get out of bed in the morning. He used to eat aspirin all day to deal with the pain, but he just kept playing."

All the way to the Hall of Fame via the Veteran's committee as part of the Class of 2016 with headliners Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Beaty just kept playing from 1962-63 as a first-round pick of the St. Louis Hawks to Atlanta as the franchise relocated and then to the Stars, even though it meant sitting out all 1969-70 and missing a season in his prime to jump to the ABA. He spent four seasons in Utah, popular with fans and appreciated by teammates, before returning to the NBA for one final campaign, with the Lakers in 1974-75.

In all, Beaty averaged 16 points and 10.4 rebounds in eight NBA seasons while being named an All-Star twice and 19.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in four years with three All-Star appearances in the ABA. When the Stars won the 1971 championship, he was the playoff MVP, to go with his 1962 NAIA title while in college with Prairie View A&M.

And when a panel of 50 players, team officials, referees, media members and fans picked an all-time ABA team in 1997, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the rebel league, only eight players received a higher score. (All except George McGinnis are in the Hall.)

"He was a jump shooter," Ron Boone, a former Stars teammate and a candidate for future enshrinement, told "From 15 feet in, he was deadly. Very crafty around the basket. He liked to run straight down the middle of the floor to get the basketball. And he would finish. He was physical and you could always tell when he was upset with another center or someone because all of the sudden the other guy would have a bloody nose. The way he would get them was, he would turn to shoot but he would pop 'em with that left elbow first and then shoot the basketball. But everyone loved him. We all loved him."

Said Stars assistant coach Larry Creger, in "Loose Balls": "Zelmo was a terrific, underrated player. Wilt Chamberlain said that Zelmo gave him more trouble than anyone. At 6 foot 9, Zelmo was dwarfed by Wilt, but he was so strong. He knew how to spread himself out and get a lot of leverage from his legs. He also was an outstanding outside shooter, so he would draw the big men away from the basket to cover him. He had a tremendous attitude and worked so hard. He'd tell our young players, 'We're going to play 84 games this season and if you're playing as hard as you should, you'll be sore after each of those games. So get used to the pain and being beat up.' He wouldn't let guys say they were too sore to practice. He'd shame them into playing.

"He also knew every little trick in the book. Players would complain that he held them, that he grabbed their trunks. He needed to do those things, because Zelmo just couldn't jump. The guys used to say that he couldn't dunk. Well, Zelmo could but he didn't like to. It took much effort, too much out of his legs."

The Hillister, Texas native coached the Virginia Squires of the ABA the season after retiring, a 42-game run amid mass confusion of financial woes for the team (and much of the league) that included several nights when it was left to Beaty to enter the locker room and ask players whether they would take the court despite paychecks being late. The trainer didn't have enough money to buy supplies to tape ankles.

Beaty died of cancer in 2013 at his home in Bellevue, Wash., at the age of 73.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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