Former Atlanta Hawks center and Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy died Saturday in Atlanta. Bellamy was a fixture in the Atlanta community ever since being traded to the Hawks by the Detroit Pistons in 1970.
The Hawks reported the 74-year-old Bellamy was at the team’s home opener on Friday night.
Bellamy was also very active in supporting community events, particularly when it came to area youth. He graciously made a guest appearance in August to support the newly-established Georgia Prep Sports Academy, a post-secondary institution that assists student-athletes in bringing up their GPAs and test scores in order to obtain scholarships.
After his retirement from professional basketball, Bellamy became active with the NAACP, the Urban League and the YMCA in the Atlanta area. He also was an ongoing member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
“The Atlanta Hawks family is saddened to learn of the death of Walt Bellamy at the age of 74 earlier today,” the Hawks said in a statement. “The Hawks and the National Basketball Association have lost a giant. As an Olympic gold medalist, the first overall pick in 1961, Rookie of the Year in 1962, a four-time All-Star and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, his on-court accomplishments were overwhelming. Off the court, he was equally impactful as a family man, leader in the community, mentor and friend to many.”
In his 14 seasons in the NBA, the 6-foot-11 center averaged 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds and while going up against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
“Walt Bellamy was an enormously gifted Hall of Fame player who had a tremendous impact on our game,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement released by the league. “Off the court, he was an even more extraordinary person. Walt is going to be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. On behalf of the entire NBA family, our condolences and thoughts go out to Walt’s family.”
Completing high school in New Bern, N.C., Bellamy chose Indiana University to attend college, reportedly stating, “Indiana at the time was the closest school to the South that would accept African-Americans. It was an easy transition for me to make.”
He averaged 20.6 points and 15.5 rebounds as a Hoosier.
Bellamy won an Olympic gold medal in 1960 while playing at Indiana and was named Rookie of the Year in 1961 after being drafted professionally by the Chicago Packers as the first overall pick. He averaged 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds that year, second only to Chamberlain’s 37.6-point rookie season. His 19.0 rebounding average is third best for a rookie behind Chamberlain’s 27 and Bill Russell’s 19.6.
Bellamy also led the NBA in field goal percentage in his rookie season, and had a 23-point, 17-rebound performance in the 1962 NBA All-Star Game. He was then went on to play for the Baltimore Bullets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta and the New Orleans Jazz.