ATLANTA -- Walt Bellamy, the Hall of Fame center who averaged 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds in 14 seasons in the NBA, died Saturday. He was 74.
The Atlanta Hawks confirmed the death, but didn't provide details. The organization said Bellamy attended the team's home opener Friday night.
"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."
The former Indiana University star won an Olympic gold medal in 1960 and was the first overall pick by the Chicago Packers in 1961.
After being named an All-American in both his junior and senior year (1960 and 1960), the 6-foot-11 inside force was the first IU athlete taken No. 1 in the NBA draft and the first Hoosier named NBA Rookie of the Year.
"If you are naming the all-time best player at Indiana University, Walt Bellamy has to be in the conversation," said IU Hall of Famer and former sports editor of the Bloomington Herald Times Bob Hammel. "He was so powerful and very agile and was always appreciative of the recognition he received from IU.”
Current Indiana coach Tom Crean discussed Bellamy's passing.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Walt Bellamy,” he said. “He was one of the most honored individuals that has ever been a part of the Hoosier basketball program. Our team had the privilege to meet him in 2008 at the Wheeler-Dowe Boys and Girls Club in Indianapolis and you realized what a special man he was. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
A native of New Bern, N.C., Bellamy played for the Hoosiers from 1958-61 and Hall of Fame Coach Branch McCracken. Bellamy graduated from IU with the most rebounds in a career with 1,088 in only 70 games, while averaging 15.5 a game. Averaging 20.5 points a game and shooting 51.7 percent from the floor, Bellamy also averaged 17.8 rebounds a game (still IU’s record).
He also holds the school records for most rebounds in a season (649), most rebounds in a single game (33), most double-doubles in a career (59), most rebounds in a three-year career (1,008). In his final college game, he set IU and Big Ten Conference records that still stand with 33 rebounds (and 28 points) in an 82-67 win over Michigan.
After his standout collegiate career, Bellamy went on to average 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds in 1962, his first year in the NBA. It was arguably one of the best first-year performances in league history.
His points per game average that season is second all-time for a rookie to Wilt Chamberlain's 37.6, and the 19 rebounds per game he averaged that season is third best all-time for a rookie (to Chamberlain's 27 and Bill Russell's 19.6).
His professional career spanned 14 NBA seasons, where he put up monster numbers for the Chicago Packers (1961-63), Baltimore Bullets (1963-65), New York Knicks (1965-68), Detroit Pistons (1968-70), Atlanta Hawks (1970-74) and New Orleans Jazz (1974).
"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."
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 a four-time All-Star who averaged 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds in his career.
In 14 years in the league, he played in 1,043 of 1,055 possible games and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. Bellamy spent his later years working for the NAACP in Atlanta.