An ABA pioneer and Lakers alumnus, Zelmo Beaty was posthumously recognized for his playing career on Sept. 9, 2016, when he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
At 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, Beaty may have been undersized at the center spot, but he was one of the most successful players in basketball at the time, earning five All-Star honors in both the NBA and ABA.
Drafted third overall in 1962 out Prairie View A&M, Beaty made an immediate impact for the St. Louis Hawks, which earned him an All-Rookie selection.
After seven years with the Hawks, including the last in Atlanta, “Big Z” decided to cross over to the ABA and sat the 1969-70 season due to league rules at the time.
Planning to play for the Los Angeles Stars, Beaty spent the time
working at a bank in Southern California before the team was moved to Utah for his first season in the ABA.
The Stars had gone just 43-41 the previous season, but under the direction of Beaty and head coach Bill Sharman — a fellow Hall of Famer who went on to guide the Lakers the 1972 NBA championship — Utah ended up winning the ABA title in Beaty’s first year.
Beaty averaged 23.2 points and 14.6 rebounds that postseason, earning himself the honor of ABA Playoffs MVP.
The Hillister, Tex., native wrapped up his ABA career after four seasons in Utah, which also saw him serve as President of the league’s Players Association. He claimed at the time that ABA players were talented enough to compete in the NBA, and the leagues merged on Aug. 5, 1976 — just one year after his retirement.
After not getting the opportunity to play in L.A. with the Stars, he was finally able to with the Lakers in 1974-75, where he was reunited with Sharman.
Despite a roster that featured fellow Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich, as well as future head coach Pat Riley and future Lakers broadcaster Stu Lantz, that team went just 30-52. Beaty, who averaged 5.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in his lone season in purple and gold, retired shortly after.
He averaged 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds while shooting 49.4 percent in his 12-year career in both the ABA and NBA, while earning the distinction of being one of the first centers to implement a face-up game. A physical player down low, he led the ABA in fouls in both 1962-63 and ’65-66.
He also led the ABA in field goal percentage in ’70-71 (55.4) and ranks fourth in league history for his career (53.6). He placed among the ABA or NBA’s top 10 in scoring three times and in rebounding four times.
“Zelmo should be included when we talk about great centers,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in a recorded segment at Beaty’s Hall of Fame induction. “He was a star.”
Shortly after retirement, he briefly coached the ABA’s Virginia Squires in 1976, but they went just 9-33.
Beaty was joined in the 2016 Hall of Fame class by Shaquille O'Neal, giving the Lakers 30 alums enshrined in Springfield, Mass.
Beaty — who was also inducted in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014 — died on Aug. 27, 2013 at the age of 73.