Walter Bellamy | Athletic Sensation

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Walter Bellamy was a 6’11” athletic sensation. The ultimate highlight and recognition of Walt Bellamy’s professional basketball career came before he ever set foot on an NBA basketball court. Walt Bellamy was a member of the United States Olympic team that participated in the Olympic Games in 1960. Bellamy was the starting center for the undefeated team and he was awarded the gold medal for his efforts.

Walter Bellamy of the New York Knicks

As a result of the national attention his skills attained, Walt Bellamy was drafted by the Chicago Packers in 1961 as the first round overall draft pick after a successful college basketball career at Indiana. He was a dominating force on the basketball court.  During his rookie season, he played in 80 games and logged 3,344 minutes of playing time.  While on the floor, Bellamy’s offensive proficiency was evident. He was able to launch 1,875 shots at the basket.  Nine hundred seventy-three of them went through the hoop and counted toward the score.  Bellamy was a large target and was frequently fouled. He stood at the charity stripe and took aim 853 times during his first season. He capitalized on the pause in the action more often than not. He successfully made 549 Free Throws during his first season in the NBA. Bellamy’s successes at the free throw line were simply a by-product of his work ethic of taking over space in the paint and pounding the boards. His size and agility enabled him to swipe 1,500 total rebounds during the 1961-62 season.

On offense, Walt Bellamy’s natural athleticism served him well. He scored 2,495 points in his first season. He was shooting accurately approximately fifty-one percent of the time from the floor. Walt Bellamy’s stamina was evident as he endured 42.3 minutes per game on the court and scored almost that many points. His yearly average was 31.6 points per game. His accomplishment on the court garnered enough attention that he was selected as the 1961-62 NBA Rookie of the Year and was invited to play in the All-Star Game. His first appearance at the All-Star Game was brilliant; the All-Star Game quickly became the Walt Bellamy show. During twenty-nine minutes of play, he scored 23 points and came away with 17 rebounds.

Bellamy’s career had its peaks and valley, but his ability to plow into the paint, stand his ground, and attack the boards on defense and make field goals on offense was legendary. His statistics speak for themselves. He is one of only seven players to score more than 20,000 points and nab more than 14,000 rebounds during their stellar careers. The final tally of total points scored during his career was a striking 20,941 points. Walt Bellamy’s work paid off.  He was a record setter. He played in 88 games during one season, more than anyone else in the league. Walt Bellamy’s work ethic is evident because during fourteen years he played in a total of 1,043 games. He was eligible to play in 1,055 during that time.  He only sat out twelve games during his entire career.

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Bellamy was relocated several times during his career. He played for the Baltimore Bullets when the Chicago team was relocated. Next, he played for the New York Knicks in 1965. He played only thirty-five games for the Knicks before he was traded to the Detroit Pistons where he stayed for only fifty-three games. He was traded to the Atlanta Hawks where he had a longer stay as a member of the team, but the level of success that his athletic potential and prowess could have gained never occurred. The dynamics of the teams and the fierce competitiveness and sheer excellence and athletic ability of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain prevented Bellamy’s star from rising to the top.

Bellamy’s career ended in his fourteenth year after one game as a member of the expansion team in New Orleans, the New Orleans Jazz. He never attained the same level of fame as his opponent colleagues Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.  If he had been a part of established teams, there is a chance that his team would have been able to attain the coveted Championship Ring. Los Angeles Laker Coach Fred Schaus described Walt Bellamy as “the happy medium between the two great centers. He can score almost as well as Wilt Chamberlain and play defense almost as well as Bill Russell.”

 

Walt Bellamy’s athletic talent and accomplishments were recognized and inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. His dominating presence beneath the goal was finally given the respect that he deserved. His career high scoring was second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s accomplishment of scoring a career high of 37.6 points per game. He ranked third in all time high behind Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the number of rebounds in a single rookie season. He was close behind them in all of the statistical categories and deserving of the recognition that his stellar career deserved.

— Marneen