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Walt "Bells" Bellamy: The Talented Giant with a Giant and Loving Soul to Match

by Tanya Womack

Walt "Bells" Bellamy, NBA Hall of Famer and humanitarian, died recently. He was 74 years old. The 6-foot-11 New Bern, North Carolina native life was filled with some of the most astounding NBA stats that still have not been broken to this day.

Bellamy had a stellar 14-year career in the NBA from 1961-1974. Bellamy began his NBA career playing basketball in Bloomington Indiana at Indiana University (IU) from 1958-1961. Bellamy said, "In the summer, after my junior year of high school, I played with some guys from IU. 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. Not that I was naive to what was going on in Bloomington, Indiana in terms of the times, but it didn’t translate to the athletic department or the classroom. Every relationship was good."

Not only did Bellamy graduate from Indiana University with the most rebounds (1,087) in only 70 games, which is 15.5 per game. He averaged 20.6 points per game and shot 51.7 percent from the floor for his college career. His senior year was just as amazing. He averaged 17.8 rebounds per game (still on Indiana’s records). He also holds the school's records for the most rebounds in a season (649) and most double-doubles in a career (59). Bellamy was selected to Indiana University’s All-Century Team.

In his last college game, he set Indiana and Big Ten Conferences records that still stand with 33 rebounds and 28 points in an 82-87 win over Michigan. Bellamy was named an All-American in both junior and senior year (1960 and 1961). Bellamy was the first Hoosier to be picked No. 1 overall in the NBA draft by the Chicago Packers in 1961. He was the first Hoosier named NBA Rookie of the Year.

He was the starting center on the American basketball team at the 1960 United States Summer Olympics team along with future Hall of Famers Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas. (Some would say the original dream team). Not only did Bellamy win a gold medal, he was a four-time All-Star and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bellamy was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1962; he had one of three greatest rookie seasons in the NBA history along with Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. He had a 31.6 points per game average that season which he was the only second rookie to Wilt Chamberlain's 37.6, and Bellamy averaged 19 rebounds per game that season, the third best all-time for a rookie. He led the NBA in the field goal percentage in his rookie season with 23 points, 17 re-bounds and played in the 1962 NBA-Star Game. Bellamy played with the Chicago Packers, which later became the Baltimore Bullets, for his first four seasons before he was traded to the New York Knicks. He played against Chamberlain and Russell and the fans enjoyed every minute of it.

During his trades from the Knicks to the Detroit Pistons, countless schedules changes, Bellamy set a still-standing record for the NBA games played in a single season with 88 games. Bellamy played 35 games with the Knicks, 53 with the Pistons. He played with the Atlanta Hawks from 1970-1974. Every time he scored, the Hawks would ring a bell. Bellamy finished his NBA career with the New Orleans Jazz in 1975.

Bellamy ended his NBA career with 20,941 points and 14,241 rebounds. He never made an All-American team. Bellamy was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. He was also a member of the 1982 Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame.

Bellamy remained active with the NAACP, the Urban League and the YMCA in the Atlanta area after retiring from the NBA. He was a public affairs consultant.

Jack Ellis, former mayor of Macon, Georgia and a longtime friend of Bellamy (30 plus years) said, "He was giant on the court and a giant off the court. Bellamy always supported me in all of my endeavors. I am saddened to hear about his passing. He was a very loyal friend and was very active in civil rights for everyone. I will truly miss him."

State Rep.Tyrone Brooks and President of GABEO, added, "Bellamy was one of my biggest supporters, when I was the National Field Director and special assistant to president, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Walt supported me in my work with the GABEO. Bellamy was a super civil rights activist. He traveled all over the state of Georgia, with us whenever there were movements, protests, injustices, and downright discrimination going on, the size of the town did not matter. He just wanted everyone to be treated equally. He went to Quitman Georgia with us to march and rally, where voters were being suppressed and intimidated during elections. He was in the trenches' with us working on The Moore's Ford Bridge Lynching's case in Monroe, Georgia. He was just a great humanitarian."

Herbert Dennard, publisher of The Informer concluded by saying, "Walt Bellamy was one the nicest person, I have ever met. He was at just about every injustice forum throughout the state of Georgia. When he walked into the room, he had to bend, because he was so tall. People would naturally look and just stare at him. He had such a presence every time he walked into a room. I am so glad; I got a chance to meet him. We became friends and I will never forget him."

Gwenette Westbrooks
Walt "Bells" Bellamy